This simulation activity looks at issues surrounding women seeking asylum, using a case brought to the European Court of Human Rights.

Complexity: Level 4

Time: 190 minutes

Group size: Any

Download the handout

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“You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind.“
Mahatma Gandhi


  • To reflect on the issues facing women seeking asylum
  • To develop critical thinking skills, logical argumentation, and a sense of justice
  • To develop an understanding of the role of the European Court of Human Rights


  • Copies of the case
  • Copies of role cards
  • Additional information for the facilitator


Prepare the role cards, making sure that you have enough copies for participants.

Ensure that there are separate spaces for the 3 groups to work at the preparation stage, and a plenary room where the court hearing can take place.


1) Tell the group that the session will be devoted to a case which came before the European Court of Human Rights. Ask participants what they know about the Court and the European Convention of Human Rights.

2) Inform them that the case deals with the rejection of an asylum claim made by an Afghan woman to the Swedish government. Depending on the group, you may need to clarify some of the terminology relating to migration (e.g. asylum seeker, migrant, refugee).

3) Hand out copies of the case for participants to read individually. Give them about 10 minutes to read this in silence.

4) Tell participants that the question they are to consider in the trial is: “Would deporting N. be a violation of article 3?”. Make sure that everyone understands this question, in broad terms.

5) Divide the participants into 4 groups:

Group 1 represents N.

Group 2 represents the Swedish Government

Group 3 represents the European Court of Human Rights

Group 4 represents experts from UNHCR

Give each group the appropriate role card and explain that they have 30 minutes to clarify their positions. Groups 1 and 2 should prepare their arguments to put to the court, while Group 3 should prepare questions for both sides. Group 4 needs to be ready to present information about conditions facing Afghani women claiming asylum, without taking sides in this particular case.

6) After 30 minutes, invite the participants for the Court hearing.
The Court hearing is presided over by the judges and should last 30 minutes.
Groups 1, 2, and 4 each have 5 minutes to present their main arguments. After the main arguments have been presented the judges should put questions to the different parties.

7) Each of the judges should then come to an individual decision. Allow them about 5 minutes for reflection. Bring the group back together and ask the judges to present their individual decisions and the arguments.

8) Inform the participants about the real decision of the European Court and the reasoning behind it. Ask for their reactions and then proceed to the debriefing and evaluation.

The verdict:

The Court had to establish whether the applicant’s personal situation was such that her return to Afghanistan would contravene Article 3. (…) The court found that as the applicant had resided in Sweden since 2004, she might be perceived as not conforming to the gender roles ascribed to her by Afghan society. Moreover, she had attempted to divorce her husband and had demonstrated a real and genuine intention of not living with him. However, if the spouses were deported to Afghanistan, separately or together, the applicant’s husband might decide to resume their married life together against her wish. The new Shiite Personal Status Law required women to comply with their husbands’ sexual requests and to obtain permission to leave the home, except in emergencies. (…) The Court could not ignore the general risk indicated by statistics and international reports. As regards the applicant’s extramarital relationship, she had failed to submit any relevant and detailed information to the Swedish authorities and she has not even tried to explain why she failed to do so. Nevertheless, should her husband perceive the applicant’s filing for divorce or other actions as an indication of an extramarital relationship, adultery was a crime under the Afghan Penal Code. Should the applicant succeed in living separated from her husband in Afghanistan, women without male support and protection faced limitations on conducting a normal social life, including the limitations on their freedom of movement, and lacked the means of survival, which prompted many to return to abusive family situations. (…) There were no strong reasons to question the veracity of the applicant’s statement that she had had no contact with her family for almost five years and therefore no longer had a social network or adequate protection in Afghanistan. In the special circumstances of the present case, there were substantial grounds for believing that if deported to Afghanistan, the applicant would face various cumulative risks of reprisals from her husband, his family, her own family and from the Afghan society which fell under Article 3.

Accordingly, the Court found that the implementation of the deportation order against the applicant would give rise to a violation of Article 3 of the Convention.
Information Note on the Court’s case-law n°132

Debriefing and evaluation

You can use this activity to support participants understand more about the concerns of women seeking asylum and the gender issues relating to migration. The activity can also be used to raise awareness of the work of the European Court of Human Rights. Depending on your focus and the composition of your group, use some of the questions below to run the debriefing.

  • Did you find the issues raised by this case easy to resolve? If not, which ones were most difficult for you?
  • Did you find your role difficult to play? If so, what was difficult?
  • Do you think the judges made the right decision?
  • Ask the judges: What were the important factors for you in making the decision?
  • Ask everyone: In the real case, the European Court felt that there was a risk of Article 3 being violated. How did they justify this decision?
  • What are the aspects of this case which are specific to women?
  • Why it is important to adopt a gender perspective on migration issues?
  • N.’s credibility and consistency was questioned during the trial. How do you explain this, and was it fair?
  • Have you heard of this case before? Are you aware of anything like this in your country?
  • This case presents the risks faced by N. in the event of deportation back to Afghanistan. Which other risks do asylum seeking women face - both while fleeing, and in the ‘host’ countries?
  • Does your country respect international standards with respect to protection of asylum seekers and refugees?
  • What is the general attitude of people in your country towards asylum seekers? Does the attitude differ towards female asylum seekers?
  • What kind of support is available to asylum seekers/refugees/migrants in your community?
  • Certain rights, such as the freedom from torture, cannot be restricted or limited. Why do you think this is the case?
  • Why do we need the European Court of Human Rights? Who can take a case before the Court?

Tips for the facilitator

You could adapt the simulation in various ways. Instead of having a big trial, you could set up mini-courts, each with its own mini-trial. You would ideally have equal number of members in each group.

You should encourage participants to use their time in working groups to clarify the case and to prepare opening statements, or to prepare questions for all sides, in the case of the judges.

You could use this activity to further explore the connection between gender and migration. Refer to the ECHR database to find court cases brought against your country. Make sure you have prepared yourself beforehand on the role and functioning of the court, and on issues surrounding women refugees or asylum seekers.

Be aware that the activity may stir up islamophobic views or beliefs about cultural superiority. These often arise when discussing women of Muslim faith. Ensure that judgements about the particular situation in Afghanistan do not lead participants to make generalisations about how women are treated or viewed by the Islamic faith.

Suggestions for follow-up

You could follow up this activity in various ways:

  • Explore the issue of women in armed conflict by engaging participants in research and discussion. This is one of the main areas of action identified by the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
  • The activities “3 things” and “Can I come in?” from Compass also address issues concerning refugees.
  • You could explore further the position of women of Muslim faith in your country/community, including the challenges they face.
  • In Bookmarks, you can find further ideas and activities that look at hate speech against refugees and migrants, such as “The stories they tell”.

Ideas for action

Participants could research cases brought against their country at the European Court of Human Rights and/or the current stance of their government with respect to asylum seekers and refugees. The HUDOC database provides access to the case-law of the Court. Participants could also investigate the support services available to asylum seeking women and LGBT+ persons.

Organise a Living Library together with participants and invite refugees and immigrants as books. The Living Library works in the same way as a normal library, but instead of books there are people. It aims to break down prejudices, by allowing members of the public who may have a preconceived idea about individuals from particular communities to meet and talk and listen. The Council of Europe publication “Don’t judge the book by its cover” offers helpful advice for setting up a living library project.

The manual We Can! Taking Action against Hate Speech through Counter and Alternative Narratives provides ideas on how to take action online and offline to challenge hate speech against refugees in the media, and how to promote respect for their human rights.

Complexity: Level 4 | Time: 190 minutes | Group size: Any
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