Immigration officers are exploiting a legal loophole to send young women and girls back to countries where they would be forced to undergo circumcision.
Human rights lawyers are handling at least a dozen cases involving women who fled their home countries to avoid genital mutilation. Despite this, their asylum applications have been rejected by the Home Office. They estimate there are hundreds more women whose claims have been rejected but who have been too scared to appeal against the decisions.
Waris Dirie, a Somali model, brought world-wide attention to the practice in 1999 by revealing in her autobiography Desert Flower that she was circumcised at the age of five. The ritual killed her sister and two cousins. Ms Dirie, a UN special ambassador, said that female circumcision was "a crime against humanity" and criticised the action of British officials.
Female circumcision involves removing the external genitalia then sewing up the vagina with thorns and is classed as torture under international asylum treaties.
More women are fleeing countries such as Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia to escape the practice, which is often carried out by grandmothers. The UN estimates that as many as 100 million women worldwide have been circumcised and the practice was only made illegal in the UK in 1985.
The Home Office claims the women do not have the right to automatic protection because they are victims of persecution from individuals, not from the state.
The Home Office said it recognised female circumcision was a form of torture but added cases were decided on an individual basis and decisions were influenced by the part of the country an asylum seeker came from.
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