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Migrant women, domestic abuse and government failure


End Violence Against Women coalition, briefing, justice, domestic abuse, migrant women and the hostile environment, DVA Bill consultationThere is clearly an urgent need to consider how to increase support and protection for migrant women.

Migrant women living in the UK are disproportionately at risk from gendered violence including domestic violence, sexual violence, ‘honour-based’ violence, forced marriage, FGM and trafficking.

Their immigration status may mean they are more vulnerable to abuse and less likely to access support, advocacy, and criminal justice measures.

They come to the UK in different ways, for different reasons, including: on a visa which gives them leave to remain without recourse to public funds; as refugees seeking asylum; on a visa connected to their spouse; as a victim of trafficking; or on a time-limited visa – a student or work visa – which has expired.

But they face a perceived and real risk of being detained and deported rather than assisted if they report if they are abused, and along with that considerable barriers in accessing protection, support and specialist services.

They are also faced with the hostile environment that has been created by the introduction of internal border controls such as immigration checks in healthcare and maternity, housing and education settings, and indefinite immigration detention.

And the impact of the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) conditions on migrant women who have suffered domestic abuse and are financially or otherwise dependent on their spouse or partner has been devastating.

Ethnic minority and migrant women in England also experience higher rates of domestic homicide and need specialist support – but services for them are being cut.

Successive immigration policies and the ‘hostile environment’ exacerbate their risk, creating a context in which women are more vulnerable to violence, while at the same time making them less able to access not only specialist support and public services but also justice.

The Istanbul Convention requires that victims of violence against women and girls (VAWG) are protected regardless of their immigration status. But for this to happen immigration policies have to be designed so they can not be used as a weapon by abusers or as an excuse by authorities not to help women or take action.

There is clearly an urgent need to consider how to increase support and protection for migrant women.

The Queen’s Speech in 2017 promised the government would bring forward a Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill.

On 8 March 2018 the government launched a consultation on the content of this Bill, which will close on 31 May 2018.

The EVAW Coalition (EVAW) is now calling on the government to use this Bill to put the safety and protection of women experiencing domestic and sexual violence before immigration enforcement, and to bring in measures to address the violence and injustice experienced by migrant women in the UK.

And a briefing published by the Coalition, Women Living in a Hostile Environment, shows that many women are so fearful of deportation that they do not report crimes of sexual and domestic violence to the police, or they do not seek support to escape the abuse, despite being entitled to protection.

This is despite the government’s stated aim of ratifying the Istanbul Convention on ending violence against women, which clearly states that all women should be protected from violence, regardless of their immigration status.

And at the launch of this briefing earlier this month, which was hosted by Rupa Huq MP and chaired by the BBC’s Samira Ahmed, women’s groups outlined a number of measures the government needs to take to protect women for whom the hostile environment policy has been used as a weapon of abuse and control.

These recommendations include:

Definition of Domestic Violence: The proposed Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill will create a new statutory definition of domestic violence.

This statutory definition must recognise that threats concerning women’s immigration status, and control of documents and application processes, can be part of domestic violence and abuse; and fear of their and their children’s deportation is a key barrier which stops migrant women being able to report and seek protection and justice.

Protection before enforcement: Public authorities, including the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Courts should receive new specific instructions that they are required to always put protection of victims and pursuit of justice when a victim seeks it ahead of immigration enforcement.

This is essential to fulfil Article 59 of the Istanbul Convention which this Bill seeks to ratify. New guidelines and training should be delivered across the public sector to ensure this; and steps should be taken to reassure the public that this is the priority.

Firewall to protect access to services: A ‘firewall’ must be created between critical public services and immigration control policies. All agencies, service providers and practitioners who come into contact with migrant women should put the safety and rights of women ahead of immigration enforcement and ensure that insecure immigration status does not bar women from protection and justice.

Women should have access to secure and safe reporting mechanisms.

Extend the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession: Extend the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) to at least six months and to all survivors of gender-based violence, so that it is not limited to spouses and is not limited to narrowly-defined domestic violence in a marital context. Make timely decisions on leave to remain cases where domestic violence or other forms of VAWG are a factor.

Protect and extend specialist services: The government should recognise urgent and already unlawful responses to migrant women facing abuse and ensure sustainable funding for specialist BME women’s support and advocacy services in every region, recognising they have highest levels of self referrals and established expertise in supporting and providing advocacy to migrant women.

Review future legislation: All new immigration law and procedures, including the upcoming Brexit Immigration Bill, to be reviewed before implementation for possible impacts on women experiencing violence.

The EVAW Coalition has also written a draft response to this consultation which they have made available to help others write their submissions.

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