Report documents experiences of abuse survivors during Covid-19 pandemic
Safety4Sisters report highlights lack of support for migrant women with no recourse to public funds who have experienced gender-based violence
21 October 2020
The Manchester-based charity Safety4Sisters this week released a report documenting the experiences of migrant women who have experienced gender-based violence and who have no recourse to public funds (NRPF) surviving under Covid-19.
You can download the 32-page report here.
Safety4Sisters explained: "This report shares our experiences, and the experiences of the women that we support, through this unprecedented period. The experiences of migrant women with NRPF are framed within an intersectional lens – fundamental to understanding the experiences of women marginalised by their immigration status and oppressed by gender, race, class and disability inequalities (among others). The report highlights how our service has responded to a sharp increase in demand, in relation to the local and national responses and we foreground the voices of the women that we support. It is a document of the struggles of migrant women who are marginalised by the state and who are surviving under the pressing weight of gender-based violence, destitution, homelessness – and now, a global pandemic."
Safety4Sisters notes that demand for its services has roughly doubled between March and September and there has been a deepening of the complexity of cases since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
The report finds women are facing worsening physical health, mental health, poverty and racism, in addition to a need for safety, yet the availability of wider support is inadequate.
"Migrant women with NRPF were locked out, at a time when the local policy strategy was 'everyone in'," the report states.
Safety4Sisters said: "The women that we support have often found brick wall after brick wall in their attempts to secure their own and their children's safety. During the initial lockdown period, between April and June, of the 35 referrals into Safety4Sisters, 32 women were without recourse to public funds. 27 of these women wanted a refuge space and all 27 women were refused one due to the NRPF condition. This means that 100 per cent of women with NRPF referred to us in this period, and who wanted a refuge space were initially refused a safe place of refuge as a direct result of their immigration status."
The report continues: "Most of these women were living with their abuser at the time of referral to us, others were street homeless or in Home Office accommodation, and a handful of women were living with a friend or in a Bed & Breakfast paid for by social services. When women on spousal visas presented as street homeless to various organisations, Safety4Sisters supported women to apply for the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC). The new biometric card takes roughly 7 to 10 days to arrive and during this time Safety4Sisters had to either fund a refuge space ourselves or provide emergency Bed & Breakfast accommodation to prevent immediate street homelessness. Refuges would not accept single women unless we fronted this payment. In some instances, Safety4Sisters has paid for women with children to access a refuge space for a number of days while social services decided whether they would fund the place."
The increased challenges seen during the pandemic even led Safety4Sisters to open its own refuge.
The report notes: "At the height of the lockdown, we secured funding and opened our refuge, Abonsh House. This resource is specifically for single migrant women with NRPF. Yet this has been a bittersweet and contested moment politically for us. It was never our intention to open a refuge. The wider failures of the state to adequately address the needs of migrant women with NRPF, and their failure to protect and provide safety to women has driven our response. Given this increasingly hostile environment, we had little choice but to open our own accommodation service. Abonsh House therefore simultaneously symbolises a physical acknowledgement of the failures of the state to eradicate institutional racism and discrimination from its ranks, but is also a colossal and inspiring monument to our care, spirit, determination and commitment to extend human rights to migrant women."
While the general response to Covid-19 initially offered a "fleeting glimpse … of a more compassionate way of doing politics", Safety4Sisters found: "Despite the pandemic, migrant women experiencing gender-based violence with NRPF continue to face destitution, homelessness or being trapped in an abusive relationship. They continue to be made invisible and turned away by both state homelessness/ housing departments and domestic abuse services."
Safety4Sisters concludes that the right to safety and protection from gender-based violence for women and children can only be upheld by ending the NRPF condition.
The report's recommendations call for long term policy changes to deliver equity and fairness for migrant women survivors and for short term responses to support migrant women accessing state and non-state services.