Deka and Khadija still have scars on their faces and heads from the beatings they endured at the hands of their husbands in Djibouti — and it’s why they hope Canada will allow them to stay here as refugees.
They’re not alone. A CBC News investigation reveals one in six female asylum seekers in Canada is fleeing persecution because she is a woman — for reasons including forced marriage and female genital mutilation. Half of those women say they were fleeing abusive partners or family members.
Gender persecution the top reason women seek asylum in Canada
“I’ve been in an abusive relationship for the last 10 years and I couldn’t get any protection from my country. That’s why I run with my son to come to Canada,” says the 29-year-old woman CBC News is calling Deka to conceal her identity.
She still has three other children living with their father in Djibouti.
“My husband used to beat me all the time,” adds her 35-year-old friend, who CBC is calling Khadija.
“He married another wife and he continued to abuse me, and when I couldn’t take it anymore, that’s when I left.”
Deka and Khadija met at the Emerson, Man., border crossing in April 2017 after walking across the Canada-U.S. border between ports of entry.
Statistics from the Canadian Border Services Agency show the RCMP intercepted 1,018 people who walked from the U.S. into Manitoba to file asylum claims in 2017. The total number of asylum seekers intercepted crossing into Canada last year was 20,593, with Quebec leading the provinces at 18,836.
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Those numbers are not broken down by gender. However, CBC News has analyzed data obtained from the Immigration and Refugee Board through an access to information request.
It found the board heard nearly 3,000 domestic violence-related refugee claims between 2013 and 2017. Slightly more than half of those claims — 58 per cent — were accepted.
That number includes 136 gender-related claims involving women from Djibouti. Of those, 113, or 83 per cent, were accepted.
Statistics show female asylum seekers were slightly more likely to have their claims accepted than males. However, women who cited gender persecution as a cause for their claim were less likely to have their claims accepted than people fleeing for political, religious or ethnic reasons.
Conditioned not to talk about abuse
Legal experts say one of the reasons is because they are traumatized and conditioned not to speak about their abuse.
“A lot of female refugee claimants are coming from countries where either there is a significant power imbalance between men and women, and/or it is often hand in hand with a lot of shame with speaking out about sexual violence — rape in particular,” said Asiya Hirji, an immigration lawyer at Neighbourhood Legal Services in Toronto.
“There is a lot of women who I have dealt with and they simply can’t speak about it, and they most certainly can’t speak about it in front of men.… A primary issue is that a woman who fails to disclose the true extent of the victimization in her home country risks not be accepted as a refugee.”