‘Hostile Environment’ immigration policy sees abused women without support and deported

Government must put safety of women before immigration enforcement say women’s groups.

Briefing details how abusers are using immigration rules to threaten women, and government focus on deportation instead of support is putting women at risk.

The ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy is being used by abusive men to threaten and control women, and the Government’s focus on immigration enforcement over support is trapping too many women in violent situations – say women’s groups who launch a new briefing and press MPs on the matter at an event in Parliament today (2 May).

The briefing, ‘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 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.

Rupa Huq MP will host a meeting of women’s groups and others in Parliament this afternoon (2 May) to highlight the impact of ‘hostile environment’ immigration policies on women who have experienced some of the worst sexual violence, domestic violence, trafficking, forced marriages and more.

“S’s husband threatened to kill and attempted to strangle her. He then left her stranded. She was supported by specialist women’s services to report her experience to the police, but instead of investigating her report they appeared to be more interested in her immigration status. They asked her questions about her immigration status, causing her to panic and become distressed. Officers had to be reminded that their priority was to assist her as a domestic violence victim and not to police her immigration status. They have taken no further action against the perpetrator.”
(Extract from report. Case study by Southall Black Sisters)

Rachel Krys, Co-Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, says:
“The public are rightly outraged by the devastating impact the hostile environment immigration policy has had on the lives of the Windrush Generation. The same policy is also leaving many women at risk of violence and exploitation, scaring them away from seeking help, and making it harder for them to access life-saving services. Abusive men often use control of immigration papers and what women can find out about their and their children’s status, to threaten and control them.

“We have an obligation to help these women. It can’t be right that they have come to the UK legally, as spouses of UK nationals for example, as refugees, or due to abuse and exploitation as trafficking victims in some cases, but are unable to get away from terrible abuse and violence because of their lack of citizenship. It is time the Government thought about these women as people in desperate need of help, and not as another number for an immigration target.”

In the Briefing launched today women’s groups are asking MPs to support new measures in the proposed Domestic Violence Bill targeted at helping these very vulnerable migrant women.

Recommendations include:

  • Putting protection of women from violence before enforcement of immigration controls
  • Ensuring there’s a ‘firewall’ between public services and immigration control so women can get help safely
  • Extending the ‘Destitute Domestic Violence Concession’ (a small, temporary measure to help a limited group of these migrant women) to more women and making it last for a longer period.

Meena Patel from Southall Black Sisters, says: “I’ve worked with many women who have been told by authorities that they are subject to no recourse to public funds which means they only have a duty of care to the children, not her. Often this means placing the children with the perpetrator or his family. There is little to no attention paid to the mother or children’s safety. The hostile environment that we currently have stops women from reporting to statutory services for the fear of being detained and deported.”

“It’s not uncommon for many women in this situation to return to their abusive partners and never ask for support again. It is heart breaking and women’s organisations are tired of shouting about the desperate needs of these women and being ignored.”

The reality of living in a Hostile Environment
Rigid internal immigration checks in GP surgeries, hospitals, schools and colleges, and police stations, and the threat of indefinite immigration detention is placing concerns over women’s immigration status over concerns for their safety and protection.

Many migrant women also have no recourse to public funds either, preventing them from accessing potentially life-saving support from women’s organisations including refuges. These women are some of society’s most vulnerable, and include victims of trafficking, women seeking asylum, as well as those with work or student visas and women on a visa connected to their spouse.

Krys adds: “The Government is consulting on its proposed Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill right now to help better protect women and girls against violence. Yet, crucially, the consultation makes hardly any mention of provisions to protect migrant women who are some of the most vulnerable in our society. We urge them to include these women in this Bill.”

The End Violence Against Women Coalition briefing makes recommendations to help end violence against migrant women including:

1. Definition of domestic violence
The statutory definition of domestic violence must recognise that threats concerning women’s immigration status can be part of domestic violence and abuse.

2. Protection before enforcement
Public authorities, including Police, Crown Prosecution Service and the Courts should receive new specific instruction 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.

3. Firewall to protect access to services
A ‘firewall’ must be created between critical public services and immigration control policies to put the safety and rights of women ahead of immigration enforcement. Women should have access to secure and safe reporting mechanisms.

4. Extend the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession
Extend the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) to at least six months, as well as extending the DDVC to all survivors of gender-based violence. Make timely decisions on leave to remain cases where domestic violence or other forms of VAWG are a factor.

5. Protect and extend specialist services
Government to recognise urgent and already unlawful response to migrant women facing abuse and ensure sustainable funding for specialist BME women’s advocacy services in every region.

6. 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 Against Women and Girls (VAWG).

The End Violence Against Women Coalition and many of its members will attend a special meeting in Parliament on 2 May, hosted by Rupa Huq MP, to discuss this urgent matter and recommendations for addressing it through the forthcoming legislation. EVAW published its draft response to the consultation on the legislation.

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