The Netherlands – Council of State rules in a case concerning the eligibility for asylum of westernised women

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

On 21 November, the Dutch Council of State decided on a case concerning an Afghan family from the city of Herat whose daughter claimed having adopted a western lifestyle in the Netherlands.

The foreign national had stayed in the Netherlands for almost four years and was granted an asylum residence permit because she was considered to be a single woman along with her mother. However, since the father of the family lodged an asylum application, the State Secretary considered that the applicant and her mother could no longer be regarded as single women, withdrawing their residence permits. The applicant had argued that, even though she followed Islam, she behaved differently than women typically behave in Afghanistan. This behaviour would not be accepted in her country of origin and would be the basis for her well-founded fear of persecution.

On appeal, the Council of State found that women with a western lifestyle in the Netherlands cannot be considered as a specific social group since they have not any inborn characteristic or a common background that cannot be changed. Nor do they share a characteristic or belief that is so fundamental to identity or moral integrity that they cannot be asked to give up. It noted that the group of westernised women is very diverse, both in terms of the underlying causes of westernisation but also with regard to its degree and intensity.

The Council of State also held that a western lifestyle is not a religious or political conviction, not constituting grounds to seek protection. It noted that, according to CJEU case law, the protection afforded under EU law on the basis of religious persecution only includes behaviour, which the persons concerned deem necessary for themselves. Moreover, it must concern a conduct which is based on a religious belief and that it must be very important for the person to maintain the religious identity, the same applying for political convictions.

However, the Council noted that there is an exception when a foreign national makes a plausible claim that the Western behaviour is a manifestation of a religious or political conviction. It thus found that a foreigner with a western lifestyle may be asked to adapt to the norms and values that apply in the country of origin and if they adapt completely, they would not be persecuted nor face a risk of inhuman treatment. In any case, it noted that there may also be situations in which a foreign national cannot fully adapt since it can be almost impossible to change or permanently hide some of their characteristics. It was emphasised that these persons should then prove that they have those characteristics and that for those reasons they will be persecuted in the country of origin.

It thus held that the State Secretary had not properly substantiated that the foreign national had not proven that she had a well-founded fear of persecution, finding the appeal well-founded and annulling the State Secretary decision.

Based on an unofficial translation by the ELENA Weekly Legal Update.


This item was reproduced with the permission of ECRE from the weekly ELENA legal update. The purpose of these updates is to inform asylum lawyers and legal organizations supporting asylum seekers and refugees of recent developments in the field of asylum law. Please note that the information provided is taken from publicly available information on the internet. Every reasonable effort is made to make the content accurate and up to date at the time each item is published but no responsibility for its accuracy and correctness, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed by ECRE.   



Inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
Membership of a particular social group
Political Opinion