Zalima* escaped from violence in Dagestan. A violent ex-husband and his relatives were waiting for her in the country. It is also likely that if she had been sent back there, she would have experienced separation from her child, which her husband’s family could have taken away from her because she dared to leave. They were the ones she fled from, not from armed conflict or political persecution.

Fortunately, we managed to protect her! Thanks to the support of the Association’s lawyer Magdalena Sadowska, Poland granted Zalima subsidiary protection. This time, the Refugee Board correctly recognised the threat of domestic violence and the removal of the child as a possible risk of suffering serious harm through inhuman or degrading treatment.

The decision emphasised that in the opinion of the Refugee Board:

the treatment to which the applicant might be exposed if returned to her country of origin – i.e. serious risk of loss of the child by her husband and his relatives; lack of support from her family, potential risk of social rejection, lack of support and protection in the country – forms – cumulatively – part of the meaning of persecution.

The Board also found that while Zalima was at risk from her family, the fault also lay with the state, which could not or was not willing to protect women from patriarchal violence. “This is unequivocally indicated by the material on the situation in the country of origin regarding domestic violence.” – wrote the justification for the decision. And therefore she should be granted protection.

Although, the Refugee Board recognised, in the context of this case, that persecution may involve acts directed against a person, including on the basis of his or her sex, yet women cannot be considered as a social group within the meaning of the Act on granting protection to foreigners. Considering the definition of social group, according to the Refugee Board:

it can reasonably be doubted whether it can be applied to women subjected to domestic violence in Dagestan – for it is difficult to consider that women subjected to domestic violence in Dagestan have a distinct social identity and are perceived separately from the society around them. The serious problem of domestic violence affects women all over the world and can be compounded by cultural perceptions of a woman’s place in society. However, it is not the mere fact of being a woman that constitutes the reason for their persecution, which does not allow women in Dagestan or Chechnya to be considered a social group in the meaning of the Convention. According to the prevailing view in the case law of the Refugee Board, this would only be possible by proving that women in Dagestan or the North Caucasus in general are at risk of persecution simply by virtue of being women. However, this is not the case.”

* name changed

1 Decision of the Refugee Council of 30 July 2020, Ref. RdU-403-1/S/19, pp. 5-6.