SIDNEY, Australia, Sept 24 – Grace Gichuhi sobs quietly as she considers her future.
"They use a knife. Just a knife, no medicine," she says. "They circumcise you and maybe you die or you survive."
The 22 year-old fears deportation to Kenya, where she will be genitally mutilated, while a bill that could prevent that fate awaits parliamentary debate.
The Mungiki sect that killed her mother for refusing to have her mutilated has threatened her life for the same reason, Ms Gichuhi said yesterday.
As it stands, Ms Gichuhi does not meet refugee criteria. However, she and a fellow Kenyan, Teresia Ndikaru Muturi, could be protected under legislation introduced to Parliament.
Called complementary protection, the changes would expand rigid criteria that require a refugee’s fear of persecution to be based on ”race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion”.
This means people facing genital mutilation or torture for other reasons can miss out.
In forced mutilation, 10 men hold the woman down, while another brandishing a knife performs the cut in front of as many as 30 onlookers, Ms Gichuhi said.
For Ms Muturi, 21, refusing circumcision has angered her family. Five years ago, after her mother accepted 10 cows from a 70-year-old man for her hand in marriage, Ms Muturi ran away.
Both women arrived in Australia in July last year on tourist visas for World Youth Day. They then lodged protection claims with the Immigration Department which were refused.
"Under the refugee convention, they weren’t found to engage with Australia’s international obligations," a departmental spokesman said.
An appeal to the refugee tribunal failed and a subsequent plea to the Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, to overturn the decision was rejected.
A ”repeat request” for Senator Evans to reconsider is before the department now, incorporating more information.
Sister Aileen Crowe, a Franciscan nun fighting the deportation, wants the minister to stop all women in similar circumstances from being deported before the new laws are in place.
Five other Kenyans facing genital mutilation were granted protection without the need for appeals. ”There are some immigration officials who follow processes to the letter of the law,” she said. ”It all depends on who they get to interview them.”
(This article was published by The Sydney Morning Herald)