Almost half of women seeking asylum in Britain have fallen victim to rape in their home countries, according to a report published by a refugee support group today.
Women For Refugee Women said its report into the fate of more than 70 respondents living in seven UK cities also found that the vast majority claiming to have been raped had been refused asylum.
Of those refused asylum, two-thirds were left destitute - with no support or housing - and more than half had thought about killing themselves.
Conducted in London, Manchester, Bradford, Cardiff, Stoke-on-Trent, Newport and Glasgow, the research found that most of the women in the sample had experienced serious human rights abuses, including rape, imprisonment, violence from soldiers or police, forced marriage and forced prostitution.
In total, 48% of those questioned had experienced rape as part of the persecution they were fleeing, while 56% of women refused asylum said they had been forced to sleep rough in Britain.
Natasha Walter, director of Women For Refugee Women, said the finds suggest women were experiencing "despair" in Britain.
"We are asking the government to note the growing concern about this issue and reform the asylum process to make it more responsive to women's needs."
The charity's report - entitled "Refused: the experiences of women denied asylum in the UK" - described the effects of destitution on the women as particularly striking.
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, who wrote a foreword to the study, said in a statement that "if we cannot provide comfort and safety to those who arrive on our shores having suffered torture, the horrors of war and cruelty of the most extreme kind, we have lost a sense of our own humanity."
Professor Philippe Sands QC said the report painted a "shameful picture" of asylum practices.
A UK Border Agency man said: "We recognise that women may face particular forms of persecution which is why we have female interviewers and interpreters for women applicants. We treat all asylum applicants with sensitivity and work with Asylum Aid and the Refugee Council to ensure the process is first-rate.
"We are proud to offer refuge to those who need it. But when we and the courts have found that applicants are not in need of asylum then we expect them to go home."
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