Today, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 52 women’s organisations have written to Priti Patel with concerns about the devastating impact that the Nationality and Borders Bill will have on women and survivors of violence.
As organisations supporting and campaigning alongside surviviors of violence against women, we reject claims made by the Home Office that the Bill will assist women seeking safety.
The Bill in its current form will cause serious harm to women, completely undermining the government’s efforts to prevent violence against women and girls (VAWG).
The evidence is clear that many women who seek asylum in the UK have suffered sexual and other forms of violence due to their gender.
While the government and Home Office claim that addressing VAWG is a priority, they are pushing a Bill that will increase the likelihood of survivors being wrongly refused asylum, making many vulnerable to further abuse and harm.
This view is supported by leading barristers, Stephanie Harrison QC, Ubah Dirie, Emma Fitzsimons and Hannah Lynes of Garden Court Chambers, who state in advice to Women for Refugee Women published today that the Bill will “disproportionately adversely disadvantage women and girls”.
The legal opinion also states that a number of measures within the Bill are incompatible with Home Office policy, UK case law and international standards on refugee protection and human rights, and therefore open to legal challenge.
The End Violence Against Women Coalition and 12 other VAWG organisations raised serious concerns about the harmful impact of the Bill via evidence to the Public Bill Committee.
Andrea Simon, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said:
“The government is repeatedly assuring organisations working to end violence against women that tackling VAWG is a priority and that they support our aims to ensure that all women can live free from abuse.
At the same time, needlessly cruel and completely unnecessary proposals in the Nationality and Borders Bill completely undermine that promise; putting survivors of violence against women and girls at risk of further trauma and re-victimisation.
Women’s organisations and legal experts are unanimous in saying loud and clear that by design, this legislation is fundamentally harmful for women and survivors. If the government is serious about tackling violence against women and girls, it must immediately change course and scrap this Bill.”
Alphonsine Kabagabo, Director of Women for Refugee Women, said:
“I know how it feels to have to leave your home to save your life and to start again in an unfamiliar country. When I had to flee the genocide in Rwanda with my baby daughter, we were supported to be in charge of our own destinies like any other human beings, and that is the kind of welcome I want refugees arriving today to receive.
Instead, the Nationality and Borders Bill is a deliberate attempt by Priti Patel to punish people who are seeking safety. It will discriminate against women seeking asylum who have survived rape, FGM, trafficking into sexual exploitation, domestic abuse and other gendered violence. Ultimately, this cruel Bill will force survivors of violence into further danger.
I ask myself daily, where is this government’s humanity and compassion? I want to live in a society where all women are treated equally and can thrive. I urge the Government to scrap this dangerous Bill and listen to women who have been forced to the margins in order to build a better, kinder approach to refugee protection.”
In deliberately excluding migrant survivors of abuse from protection, this Bill echoes the failings of the Domestic Abuse Act. We are alarmed to see that the government is repeating this failure by once again excluding survivors of VAWG from safety, despite warnings from specialist women’s organisations.
We join Women for Refugee Women and a wide cross-section of society in urging the government to listen to these warnings, to speak with women who have been forced to cross borders for safety, and to rethink the Bill.
Full open letter and list of signatories available here.
Read the full legal opinion here.
Women for Refugee Women are campaigning against the Nationality and Borders Bill, more info here.
Sinead Geoghegan, Communications Manager
firstname.lastname@example.org 07960 744 502