Fearing daughter´s circumcision, African family asks Israel to hold off deportation (HAŽARETZ NEWS) By Talila Nesher 08/17/12)
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Family says asylum request was rejected without ever being examined
A family from the Ivory Coast whose application for refugee status
was denied is worried their 6-year-old daughter will be forced to
undergo female circumcision if they are deported from Israel. The
Population, Immigration and Border Authority in the Interior Ministry
turned down the family´s asylum request.
The mother was circumcised in the Ivory Coast, or Cote d´Ivoire as it
is officially known, when she was a child, and it was made clear to
her by her family in the Ivory Coast that her daughter would also
face the same practice if the family returned.
The family says its asylum request was rejected without ever being
examined properly. The immigration authority says the family´s
application never raised the issue of their daughter being subjected
to genital mutilation.
The family has remained in Israel under the rubric of the group
protection granted to all Ivory Coast citizens here seeking refugee
status. But as of a month ago, this collective protection ended and
the immigration authority started to arrest and deport those citizens
of the Ivory Coast who did not leave Israel on their own accord. The
Foreign Ministry, and in its wake the immigration authority, no
longer consider the Ivory Coast a place where a civil war is underway
or one where citizens´ lives are considered to be in danger.
Two recent court decisions ruled that once the collective protection
against deportation ended, citizens of those countries were entitled
to submit individual asylum requests, as the end of collective
protection did not necessarily mean there was no danger to specific
individuals from those countries.
The United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to
which Israel is a signatory, recognizes female genital mutilation as
an act of persecution. The convention spells out that a refugee is
someone who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for
reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular
social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his
nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to
avail himself of the protection of that country."
To receive refugee status, the asylum seeker must prove he or she
meets one or more of these criteria.
Gender can also be the basis for defining persecution, the Office of
the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ruled in 2002.
Female genital mutilation is specifically mentioned in the UNHCR
rules as a recognized form of persecution based on gender.
The UNHCR rules also relate in detail to women who are persecuted
because they do not submit to social codes based on religion or
tradition, and punishing a women for such disobedience and refusal to
behave according to religious codes can be construed as creating a
real fear of persecution based on religious belief. Such persecution
does not necessarily have to be carried out by authorities, and
persecution by various groups within the population or by
individuals - if the authorities do not act to prevent it - can also
be considered to be persecution under the UN refugee rules, and
qualify the victim for refugee status.
"It was before my daughter was born, and I didn´t know I would get
pregnant, or whether I would have a boy or a girl. Afterward I didn´t
tell because I had a visa and I never really thought I would have to
return to the Ivory Coast. Today the threat seems real to me," said
After the immigration authority rejected the asylum request, the
family filed an urgent petition to the Tel Aviv District Court. The
family asked the court to order the immigration authority to examine
the substance of their request and refrain from deporting them before
such an examination was completed.
The woman descrihed in her court petition how such mutilation is
commonplace in the tribe she comes from, and how it is carried
out. "Usually the aunt or grandmother carries it out, or they choose
an older woman from the village ... Usually they circumcise a number
of girls together, up to 20 or 30, using the same knife, which is not
sterilized at any stage," said the mother. "Usually they cut off the
entire clitoris ... It is clear that in many cases there are
infections and diseases, and there are even cases where girls die as
a result of blood loss and infection," said the mother. She said it
was made clear to her by both her mother and her sister that her
daughter would face such a mutilation and would be not be allowed to
Smadar Ben-Natan, the woman´s lawyer, said she was an exceptionally
brave woman fighting for a better life for her daughter. Ben-Natan
added that while the Interior Ministry announced it would examine
asylum requests on an individual basis for Ivory Coast citizens when
it cancelled the collective protection, in practice it has refused to
examine individual requests.
Reports from UNHCR and UN International Children´s Emergency Fund
(UNICEF ) state that the Ivory Coast has one of the highest national
rates of female genital mutilation in West Africa. Nearly 40% of the
country´s women have undergone some form of female genital
mutilation, mostly what is referred to as Type II mutilation which
involves removal of the clitoris and inner labia. The prevalence of
such acts is extremely high in the country´s northern region, 87.8%
of women; northwest, 87.9%; and west, 73.3%.
The UN agencies say there is a strong social consensus around these
mutilations. The main reasons given to justify such practices in the
Ivory Coast are that it tests the courage and endurance of the young
girls; it guarantees the wife´s faithfulness; it is a ritual of
purification and social integration - preparation to life as a
housewife; and finally, it is a religious requirement.
Female genital mutilation is practiced among most ethnic and
religious groups and within all layers of society in the Ivory Coast,
but prevalence is greater among certain ethnic groups and tribes;
among the Muslim population; in rural areas; and among women and
girls who have not had access to education. Young girls and even
babies are increasingly affected by such practices, and the
phenomenon is taking on more of an urban character, reports the UN.
The Immigration Authority responded: "In 2008 the request for asylum
was denied after it was considered by the advisory committee on
refugee matters. [The decision] was based on the opinion of the [UN
Representative of the High] Commissioner for Refugees, which stated
that the petitioner did not succeed in proving a basis for fears of
persecution. Even though the individual request of the petitioner for
asylum was denied, her residency permit was extended for humanitarian
reasons until the end of that year based on the policy of non-
deportation implemented at that time regarding citizens of the Ivory
Coast. Even in an additional interview conducted with the petitioner,
in the wake of an appeal she filed, it was decided to deny her
request," said the Population, Immigration and Border Authority.
"At no stage of the application process was the issue of her
daughter´s circumcision mentioned, and even at the time of the
request for a rehearing, the discussion revolved around the
government of Ivory Coast, while the versions were changed from that
of the original request, including [issues] of residence and
political affiliation. In light of all this, it was decided not to
rehear the request; and in any case the matter will be heard in
court, and there the full answer will be presented," said the
immigration authority. (© Copyright 2012 Ha´aretz 08/17/12)
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