Asylum seekers citing female genital mutilation successful in fewer than half of cases

There was a dramatic fall in numbers claiming FGM last year, when just two cited it as their primary reason for seeking asylum, with one person successful

Fewer than half of people claiming asylum in Ireland due to fears of female genital mutilation (FGM) in their native country are granted refugee status.

Figures released under freedom-of-information legislation show that since 2017, 318 women and girls seeking asylum in Ireland have cited FGM as their primary reason for seeking refugee status. Of those, 130, or 41 per cent, were granted refugee status or other forms of protection.

In general, the number of asylum seekers claiming FGM as their primary reason for applying for refugee status has risen since 2017 when the Department of Justice started keeping track of figures.

In 2017, just 10 people listed FGM as their primary reason, with five being granted refugee status. By 2022, that figure had risen to 116, 60 of whom were granted refugee status.


There was a dramatic fall in numbers claiming FGM last year, when just two cited it as their primary reason for seeking asylum. One person was successful.

In releasing the data, the department said it could provide figures only on the number of asylum seekers citing FGM as their primary reason.

“It is very likely that FGM was considered as a secondary reason in a number of cases, and while it would have contributed to the decision made, that was not recorded,” the department said.

“Actual figures for cases with an FGM element are therefore likely to be considerably higher than the 318 figure quoted above, as are the number of cases granted where FGM was an element of the application.”

FGM involves the removal of some or all of the external female genitals. It is carried out during childhood and is practised in parts of many countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It is particularly prevalent in Somalia, where it remains legal. An estimated 98 per cent of Somali girls aged between five and 11 have undergone FGM.

Under Irish law, FGM is considered a form of gender-based persecution and can therefore be considered when granting or refusing a claim of asylum.

Many parents claim asylum in Ireland out of fear they will be pressured to carry out FGM on their children in their native country.

According to legal sources, asylum claims citing the risk of FGM often come down to where an applicant is from. “An applicant from Somalia is more likely to be granted status on this basis than someone from a country where it is far less widespread,” said an asylum barrister.

The issue has been legislated in the courts several times. In several cases, Nigerian families have been refused asylum on the basis that FGM is not prevalent in the area of their country they lived.

FGM has been illegal In Ireland since 2012. However, there has been just one prosecution.

An estimated 10,000 women and girls living in Ireland have suffered FGM, with most having undergone the practice in their native country before moving to Ireland.

Gardaí have warned in some cases families living in Ireland will fly their children to their country of origin to have the procedure performed. They appealed for communities to watch for potential signs of FGM, including children suddenly being withdrawn from school.

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Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times