Catholic Church in Australia seeks refugee status for WYD pilgrim

Sydney, Australia, Sep 23, 2009 / 01:03 am (CNA) .- The Catholic Church in Australia is trying to secure refugee status for a young Kenyan woman who came to Australia for World Youth Day and wants to stay because she claims that she will be circumcised and forced to marry if she returns to her country.

Teresia Ndikaru Muturi came to World Youth Day last year knowing she did not want to return to Kenya.

"Because I'm fearing my own mum for how she's forcing me to marry [an] old man, to leave school and yet I don't want to leave my school. Also I'm fearing to be circumcised," she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Her mother is reportedly a member of the outlawed Mungiki sect, which practices female genital mutilation. According to Muturi, the sect believes one can only become a full woman and get married once one is circumcised.

When she was 16, her mother had told her she had arranged for her marriage to an older man and had received a payment of cash, cows and goats.

"He brought cows and goats for my mum, so no way I could escape from it, I have to get married," she said.

The young woman fled and lived with her stepsister until her uncle, a priest, arranged for her to come to Australia.

Muturi’s application for asylum has been rejected. She was also unsuccessful at Australia’s Refugee Review Tribunal.

Franciscan Sister Aileen Crowe has applied to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Chris Evans to intervene, but that effort too was unsuccessful. A second application, which includes new information about Muturi’s psychological state, is pending.

“There is nothing for them. Australian law up until now does not recognize them at all. The only way they can be recognized is if they go to the Minister,” Sister Crowe told ABC, characterizing women like Muturi as the silent asylum seekers.

Last week Immigration Department staff told Muturi she had to buy a plane ticket to leave the country next month.

A spokesman for Minister Evans says that she will not be forced to leave the country until the new information has been thoroughly assessed.

Sr. Crowe said that the government’s approach is inconsistent.

"Four Ugandan girls suffered the same possibilities, all got protection on the first go. It's just a lottery, but people's lives are at stake in this lottery," she said, claiming that Evans is not receiving all the information he needs to decide on cases.