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Nigerian deportation

The Department Of Justice has denied asylum to Elizabeth Onasanwo and her four children, who are due to be deported back to Nigeria, where the two girls - Bolu aged 6 and Christina aged 18 - will face female genital mutilation, a traditional practice frequently resulting in death

Adrienne Murphy, 17 Sep 2002



Elizabeth Onasanwo, whose own sister died as a result of female genital mutilation (FGM), fled Nigeria with her children to help her daughters escape the same maiming. The family have lived in Dublin for the last three years, but their application for asylum in Ireland was turned down by the Irish government. August 26th was the deadline for the family to report to the deportation office, but in the meantime Elizabeth, the mother, suffered a mental breakdown. She is now in a psychiatric hospital, leaving 18-year-old Christina in charge of the family, who are still living in Dublin.

In an important test case, Christina is re-applying for asylum for herself and her family, this time as an adult. (When the application was first made by her mother, Christina was still legally a minor.) The case is underway as we go to press.

If the Onasanwo family are deported back to Nigeria, Christina and her 6-year-old sister will be forced to undergo female genital mutilation. FGM is a predominantly rural rites of passage ritual, practised in both Christian and Islamic communities in 65 African countries and among African populations on other continents. 135 million women and girls in the world are survivors of FGM, while 2 million are currently at risk of being mutilated in this way – that’s 6,000 per day.

FGM is regularly performed by community elders in unsterile conditions, often with instruments as basic as razor blades. The mildest form is removal of the clitoral hood, though the practice can be much more severe, with removal of the entire clitoris as well as the inner and outer lips of the vagina. The skin that remains is then sewn up, leaving only a tiny hole.

FGM regularly results in life-long physical and psychological suffering for women, most of whom can never experience a healthy sex life. Problems include chronic inflammatory disease, infertility, and pregnancy and childbirth complications. FGM is also responsible for spreading HIV and AIDS.

Asylum in Ireland is sought on grounds of religious and political persecution in the home country. By refusing to acknowledge FGM as a political act, the government is sending out the sexist message that women fleeing oppressive patriarchies will not be entitled to asylum here.

“Many women die from bleeding, infection, shock and tetanus as a result of FGM,” says June Coghlan, USI Women’s Rights Officer, who is spearheading a campaign to stop Christina – who has just started 3rd level education – and her family from being deported. “The Department of Justice know that Christina and her sister face genital mutilation if they’re sent back to Nigeria,” says June. “Minister Michael McDowell is placing their lives in danger by issuing a deportation order. We’re urgently appealing to him to reverse this decision.”

Residents Against Racism run a 24-hour-helpline for refugees and asylum seekers. Tel: (087) 666 2060. For more on the campaign to stop the Onasanwo family deportation, and to sign the petition, visit www.usi.ie

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