Islam v Secretary of State for the Home Department, R v Immigration Appeal Tribunal and Another, ex parte Shah (Conjoined Appeals) [1999]

Colour photo of tour of refugee camp in Jordan with the UN Secretary General

Women represent half of the world’s 19.6 million refugees. Women and children are often part of large-scale movements of people who flee persecution and human rights abuses, poverty and lack of economic opportunities as well as escaping conflicts and devastation in their home countries.

The joined appeals by Shah and Islam concerned two women from Pakistan who were subjected to serious physical abuse by their husbands and were forced to leave their homes. They applied for asylum in the UK, claiming that they feared if returned to Pakistan they would be subjected to domestic violence from which there was no state protection, as well as severe sanctions arising from false allegations of adultery made against them. The House of Lords decision is of major significance, as it is the first time the highest court in the UK recognised gender as a protected characteristic and women as a particular social group within the meaning of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

The full version of this landmark is written Nora Honkala.


Learn More

Asylum Aid: Protection from Persecution, ‘The Women’s Project’

Refugee Council, ‘Refugee Council Briefing: The Experiences of Refugee Women in the UK’

UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency, ‘Figures at a Glance’

UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency, ‘The 1951 Refugee Convention’