Nonsense Of The Month: March 2024

Meet Ramatu: Found non-credible, against all odds

This month, to illustrate parts of the administrative kafkaesque nightmare faced by migrants going through the asylum procedures in Greece, we would like to talk about the case of Ramatu (name changed) one of LCL clients.

Ramatu’s case exemplifies a much wider, much bigger problem regarding the so-called credibility assessment carried out by the European Union Agency for Asylum’s (EUAA) and the Greek Asylum Service’s case workers during the assessment of asylum claims in Greece. While this concept is in theory meant to objectively assess whether an asylum seeker can be believed in what she or he states during the asylum interview, it is in fact often used by the asylum services as a subjective and arbitrary ground to reject people’s claims. This is exactly what happened to Ramatu, a young woman from Sierra Leone, who recently sought asylum in Greece and was rejected on the ground that she allegedly lacked credibility, despite the official evidence supporting her claim. 

Ramatu was subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) at a young age, when she was about six years old. She was later on forced into a traditional initiation, part of which included performing FGM on others girls and women. Ramatu refused to join such traditional rites, from which she suffered herself and was therefore forced to flee her country to avoid further harassment and violence from traditional society and family members there. Female Genitale Mutilation (FGM) is a form of gender-based violence that amounts to persecution under the 1951 Refugee Convention as well as under the EU Qualification Directive

FGM has short and long-term health consequences and is considered to be a continuous form of persecution and also as a form of torture, as established, amongst others, by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. As a recognised persecution, FGM is often a ground for someone to be granted asylum. 

FGM survivors generally experience major procedural challenges in establishing the facts of their account during their asylum interviews. Ramatu was however lucky enough to obtain an official certificate from the Greek public health services, EODY, confirming that she was a victim of FGM, as well as a suspected victim of human trafficking in Türkiye. The UN Guidelines on Asylum Claims relating to FGM clearly state that it is not necessary for applicants to provide medical documents to substantiate their claim. Yet Ramatu did that.

While one would assume that such a certificate would constitute reliable and sufficient evidence of the gender-based persecution she underwent in Sierra Leone, Ramatu was still asked additional questions during her asylum interview about the specific type of ‘circumcision’ she was subjected to. As the wide majority of women and girls who were themselves mutilated through FGM, Ramatu was unable to answer this question. Survivors of FGM are often unaware of or do not fully understand the harm that FGM entails and are usually not fully informed about technical details which only medical actors can actually answer. Considering that even specifically trained gynaecologists are often unable to identify the different types of FGM, and since the EODY certificate did not specify it in her case, it is questionable why such question was even asked to Ramatu in the first place. Knowing that FGM can oftentimes be a highly traumatic experience and lead to lifelong physical and psychological suffering, the appropriateness and necessity of such question during an asylum interview is problemematic in and of itself.

Why was she asked these inappropriate and sensitive details about FGM then, especially while possessing an official certificate from a public health actor? The answer is that the asylum services decided to carry out a credibility assessment of her accounts, irrespective of the available evidence in her case.

What is more, in the end, the Greek Asylum Service rejected Ramatu’s claim on credibility grounds: amongst others, they did not believe that Ramatu is a survivor of FGM, despite the EODY certificate, despite statistics confirming that almost 90% of women and girls from Sierra Leone are victims of FGM, and despite her detailed description of what happened to her. Furthermore, the asylum service did not believe that she would face a risk of persecution if returned to Sierra Leone, despite several clear risk-enhancing circumstances in her case, such as her area of origin, the fact that she is a single woman without a support network, and despite her identification as a victim of human trafficking in Türkiye. Outrageously, the Asylum Service completely disregarded that Ramatu would be forced to perform FGM on other girls and women herself, despite the fact that coercing someone to commit torture may be considered torture in itself. Since Ramatu’s credibility was rejected, this ground for a well-founded fear of persecution was not considered at all. 

Following her rejection, the Legal Centre Lesvos’ lawyers took on Ramatu’s representation and filed an appeal on her behalf in order to challenge the first negative decision. It should however not take lawyers’ intervention for survivors of FGM and gender-based violence to be believed and establish the veracity of the abuses they went through. As mentioned at the beginning, Ramatu’s case is not an isolated incident. It is rather just one of many examples of how the Greek Asylum Service and EUAA systematically uses the credibility assessments to reject asylum claims. Too often, the Asylum Service does not provide clear, and compelling reasons why the credibility of an applicant is rejected but simply states that they do not believe the applicant, effectively denying the experiences of survivors. This kind of argumentation is the spawn of a policy aiming to reject as many people as possible, regardless of legal grounds.  Like many times before, we call on the Greek Asylum Service and the EUAA to stop these practices immediately.


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