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  • Writer's pictureMEWSo

'Honour' Killing Is No Empty Threat

Updated: Mar 4

Bahija (all names have been changed) sought asylum in London not because she was destitute or from a war zone but because her father threatened to kill her … for the family ‘honour’.

Bahija is from a fairly well-to-do family with important connections in her homeland. She is highly educated and well travelled: she speaks good English and gained a Masters degree while studying in France.

However, her tragic story began when she fell in love. 

Controlling Father

Bahija’s father had always been extremely controlling of her and all the women in the family. Whenever she travelled across her homeland or abroad, or went away to study, she would have to submit to a virginity test on her return. Throughout her teenage years and her early 20s she had relented to many such virginity examinations.

Then she met and fell in love with a neighbour’s son, Sarim. His family were pleased and asked her father’s permission for them to marry, but he refused. The family was not good enough for his daughter, he said.

Love Finds A Way

Despite the disappointment Bahija and Sarim never gave up. They continued to see each other in secret. When she came to England to study, Sarim came with her. They married in a Islamic religious ceremony and lived together as husband and wife.

When her father found out he threatened to kill her if she ever stepped foot in the country again. Sarim’s family tried to reason with him but he threw them out and threatened them, too. They were forced to move house. By this time the whole neighbourhood knew about the couple.

Many times Bahija asked for her father’s forgiveness and Sarim asked, too, but he would not relent. They even contacted an organisation in their homeland to see if they would act as a go-between but they refused to get involved. Her father was too important and they didn’t want to make an enemy of him.

Eventually, Bahija came to MEWSo for help. She had made many applications over several years for the right to stay in Britain but had been refused. Now, she no longer had the right of appeal. But it was far too dangerous for her to return home. She also wanted one final attempt to resolve things with her father. The situation had seriously affected her mental health, which was steadily failing, and she was on heavy medication.

Emergency Conference

Zahra, a MEWSo Senior Advisor on Domestic Abuse, contacted a solicitor on Bahija's behalf and convened a conference of MEWSo advisors to collaborate in speaking to the father.

At the meeting was Bahija, Sarim and Zahra, an independent professional interpreter, Rose, MEWSo's Advice Manager at the time, and the Executive Director, Halaleh Taheri. 

Zahra was keen to have as much help as possible to try and resolve things between Bahija and her father, but she also needed witnesses and an official recording of the contact made as proof of Bahija’s circumstances.

When Zahra called the house Bahija's mother answered. She spoke to her daughter in floods of tears. No one in the family was allowed to speak to Bahija and her father had threatened to divorce the mother if she ever spoke to her again. He even forced the mother to give up the job she loved, headmistress of a school, because he blamed her for everything that had happened. She should have kept better control of her daughter, he said.

Zahra said: “By now they were both crying uncontrollably. It was heartbreaking to see.” Eventually, the mother gave her the father’s mobile number and Zahra called him directly. 

I Will Kill Her

He was not interested in ever forgiving Bahija. “She destroyed my honour, in front of my brothers and my family. She makes me sick. If she ever steps foot in this country again I will kill her and I will kill her bastard husband, too.” he screamed. There was much more, and the language was not pleasant, so Zahra ended the call.

Everyone in the room was shocked, upset and angry, but now this was the irrefutable proof that Bahija’s life was in danger.

Because the Home Office refused Bahija the right to appeal, the solicitor was forced to go to court to get them to listen to the evidence. We presented a medical expert, recognised by the court, to diagnose Bahija’s physical and mental state; an expert in the country's culture, again someone recognised by the court, who could testify that honour killings are a real threat; and we now had the evidence of the conversation with the father.

Throughout the entire process, Zahra gave Bahija emotional and befriending support, made sure she understood any documents she received, and arranged for some financial help, too.

Finally, Success

Once the Home Office saw all the evidence that had been compiled, they saw no need to go to court. They granted both Bahija and Sarim the right to remain. But from the start of Bahija’s battles to finally being granted permission took 13 years. She is still seriously traumatised by the whole experience with her family and the fight for refugee status.

And, MEWSo continues to help her with our workshops, classes and fun days out so she can socialise and integrate with the local community and start to rebuild her life.

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