No refuge? Fleeing to the USA as a survivor of domestic abuse

Joe Biden has promised to end Trump’s detrimental asylum policies, including those which aimed at preventing survivors of domestic violence from receiving asylum.

In 2018, Jeff Sessions as Attorney General under Trump “attempted to place a sweeping ban on domestic violence claims”, by reversing an immigration appeals court ruling that had granted asylum to a Salvadoran woman who claimed to have been sexually, emotionally and physically abused by her husband.

To qualify for refugee status under the 1951 Refugee Convention, a woman fleeing domestic violence must be able to demonstrate that the harm she faces amounts to persecution, and that she is being persecuted for one of the five Convention grounds. Sessions’ ruling had serious implications for how courts would be required to understand the terms of ‘persecution’ and ‘for reasons of’ within the Refugee Convention in relation to survivors of domestic abuse.


In 1999, the case of Islam and Shah established that the unwillingness of national authorities to intervene in the matter of domestic violence could be a significant indicator of a lack of state protection. In this way, if the perpetrators of violence (in this case, the husbands of the applicants) were able to abuse their wives in the knowledge that they would enjoy impunity from the State, then this could amount to persecution. In other words, lack of State protection amounts to persecution when it results in the effective protection of those who would abuse their wives. This view is supported in