Pressure mounts on Priti Patel over case of 11-year-old at risk of FGM | Female genital mutilation (FGM)


Barristers, former judges, politicians and campaigners are among 300 people who have signed an open letter to the home secretary, Priti Patel, urging her to grant asylum to an 11-year-old girl at high risk of female genital mutilation if taken abroad.

Helena Kennedy QC, former chief prosecutor Nazir Afzal, campaigner Leyla Hussein and more than 30 MPs have added their names to the letter published by the the Good Law Project alongside a petition launched on Friday.

There has been a groundswell of support for the girl known as Jasmine, since it was reported by the Guardian last week that she remains at risk of deportation to Sudan via Bahrain despite being the subject of an FGM protection order.

Jasmine was brought to the UK at the age of three by her mother, herself a victim of FGM and whose two sisters died after being cut in their native Sudan.

The single mother’s claim for asylum failed but inquiries by the family court into her daughter’s welfare led a judge to conclude: “It is difficult to think of a clearer or more serious case where the risk … of FGM is so high.”

Baroness Kennedy said: “It just amazes me a judge makes a statement like that and still the case is being resisted.”

The home secretary mounted a legal challenge around the case, which was dismissed at a hearing last month in the court of appeal.

Kennedy said: “This case has been fought hard by the Home Office because it lives in terror that if it becomes too easy to flee FGM and get asylum, the UK will be flooded with applicants. But every case should be decided on its own merit. It is very important our courts take a tough position on FGM, which is a form of torture.”

Afzal, former chief crown prosecutor for north-west England, said: “This shocking case makes clear that, despite what they say publicly, the government does not take FGM as seriously as it should.

“It also reminds us that the child’s voice is rarely heard – and not heard at all in immigration cases. Let this be a wake-up call to the prime minister and home secretary that the risk of FGM is higher than they may think.”

The letter to Patel states there is “overwhelming evidence” to support Jasmine’s case for asylum and cites the case of Zainab Fornah in 2006 where it was established that the risk of FGM is sufficient grounds to grant refugee status.

The letter reads: “Jasmine’s mother has PTSD and has been in and out of courts for eight years. She should not be put through the gruelling process of making a further application for asylum on behalf of her daughter.”

Among the signatories are Baroness Butler-Sloss, the first female lord justice of appeal, campaigner Caroline Cox, Green party co-leaders Siân Berry and Jonathan Bartley, Ed Davey, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, and MPs including Jeremy Corbyn, Stella Creasy and Rosie Duffield.

It was spearheaded by nurse and activist Hoda Ali who has first-hand experience of the devastating and life-changing consequences of FGM after being cut aged seven.

Hoda Ali
FGM activist Hoda Ali wants Priti Patel to ‘dig deep and think of the risk to this girl’. Photograph: Courtesy of Hoda Ali

Ali, who came to the UK as a refugee in 1997, endured a string of operations between the ages of 11 and 17 due to FGM complications. The abuse left her unable to have children.

She said: “Jasmine will be aware of FGM because her mother has been cut, her aunties died after being cut. She will have been taught in school that her body belongs to her … but at home she hears of risk of FGM; that is incredibly confusing and scary.”

Ali, who is to lead a safeguarding project covering FGM in 18 west London primary schools, said: “This child was so worried she went to her teacher for help and yet she still wakes every morning wondering what will happen. She will feel like nobody wants her here and that breaks my heart.”

She added: “I would like to say to Priti Patel: ‘What kind of woman are you? What kind of change-maker are you?’ I want her to dig deep and think of the risk to this girl.”

Vera Baird QC, victims’ commissioner for England and Wales, said she was deeply moved by Jasmine’s case. “Returning to Sudan must be a harrowing prospect for her and her mother. FGM is a horrific crime, the physical and mental effects of which can last a lifetime. All that can be done to prevent it should be, be that here or in another country.”

Baroness Cox said: “Rather than digging its heels in over this case, the Home Office should use this opportunity to send a clear message to perpetrators that the UK does not tolerate FGM; that we will always champion the voice of the victim; and that we will do everything we can to ensure girls like Jasmine have the opportunity to make the most of their potential, without fear of being hurt by those closest to them.”

Charlotte Proudman, a barrister on the mother’s legal team, says she has represented many girls like Jasmine at risk of FGM overseas. She said: “Sadly her case is just the tip of the iceberg.”

The Home Office said the reason for its application to the appeal court was to provide guidance on the relationship between the family court and the specialist immigration and asylums tribunals which made conflicting judgments on the risk faced by the family.

Following publication of the open letter to the home secretary, the department told the Guardian the family will be able to make further submissions on its asylum claim.

A spokesperson said: “Our lawyers are contacting their legal representatives to ensure they are clear about the next steps. Asylum cases such as this can be very complex and we always carefully and sensitively consider the welfare of the individuals involved.”





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