Groups highlight lack of refuge spaces for migrant women with no recourse to public funds
Women’s groups call on the Government to extend the Domestic Abuse Bill to protect all migrant women
24 February 2021
In written evidence submitted to the Home Office on Friday, Solace Women's Aid (Solace) called on the Government to extend the provisions of the Domestic Abuse Bill to all migrant women.
Solace is London's leading provider of support and services for victims of violence against women and girls (VAWG).
Solace stated: "The Government must adopt amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill to extend its provisions to migrant women and the VAWG strategy should learn lessons from the innovative crisis accommodation models commissioned during the pandemic. Migrant women with insecure migration status and women with no recourse to public funds are some of the most vulnerable women because their immigration status can be deliberately exploited by perpetrators. Fear of being reported to the Home Office and of deportation is a barrier to survivors accessing support."
The submission also provides an update on an emergency refuge set up by Solace together with Southall Black Sisters (SBS) to support migrant women during the Covid-19 pandemic. Solace said that it has to turn away women with no recourse to public funds from the refuge because need is greater than capacity.
The submission noted: "The emergency Covid-19 refuge … has provided a lifeline, with fully funded places enabling caseworkers to support women with domestic violence destitution concession applications and support women with recourse with applications for welfare and housing support. But the refuge – funded on a smaller scale until June 2021 – is unable to meet demand, particularly for the places reserved for women with no recourse to public funds. Half of the referrals turned away from the refuge between May and November 2020 were due to lack of space for these women."
Metro.co.uk highlighted the issue of migrant domestic abuse victims being turned away from refuges in an article published on Friday. The Independent last week also featured an article about the issue, authored by a frontline domestic violence worker.
Safety4Sisters, which supports migrant women experiencing domestic and gender-based violence, told Metro.co.uk that 100% of the women referred to it over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic had been refused help because they had no recourse to public funds.
Sandhya Sharma of Safety4Sisters explained: "Police don't know what to do with them, social services refuse them and housing options reject them because they are not legally entitled to those services."
Elizabeth Jiménez-Yáñez of the Latin American Women's Rights Service (LAWRS) told Metro.co.uk: "During the first lockdown we had a number of cases of women that, despite the support of the organisation and despite all the advocacy work that we did, they ended up going back to perpetrators because they say 'At least with my perpetrator I have a roof over my head'."
Along with Solace, SBS and Safety4Sisters, LAWRS is calling on the Government to extend the Domestic Abuse Bill to migrant women.
Jiménez-Yáñez said: "We are trying to ensure that all women, regardless of their immigration status, are protected by this Bill that has been claimed to be a landmark piece of legislation and a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address domestic abuse. But still they are failing one of the most vulnerable groups of women."
Ammaarah Zayna wrote in The Independent last Monday that the battle to protect migrant women remains uphill.
"Survivors not only fight for their lives, but for the right to be merely acknowledged by the systems that claim to protect us. Enabling this level of discrimination has created a culture of normalising abuse against migrant women," Zayna said.
In a snapshot report on violence against women and girls published this month, the coalition End Violence Against Women (EVAW) noted: "The Domestic Abuse Bill continued its passage through Parliament in 2020, still without measures that enable migrant women who are domestic abuse victim-survivors to equally access protection and support. Almost half of all the women that struggled to find a refuge space in the past year (identified through Women's Aid No Woman Turned Away project) were from Black and minoritised backgrounds – a stark demonstration of how structural inequalities faced by Black, minoritised and migrant women cause harm for women seeking refuge following violence or abuse. And only 5% of refuge spaces were reported as being available to women with No Recourse for Public Funds."
Refuge, the UK's largest single provider of specialist domestic and gender-based violence services, said last month: "No one should be afraid of or unable to ask for help because of insecure immigration status and having 'no recourse to public funds' should never be a barrier to escaping an abusive partner."
Last week, Amnesty International UK reported that 30,000 people had now signed their support for the Step Up Migrant Women campaign, which seeks equal protection for all survivors of domestic abuse under the Domestic Abuse Bill, regardless of immigration status.
Amnesty International UK added: "[T]he road for migrant women to be included in the bill continues to be challenging. The government has admitted that there is an issue for migrant women who are not able to access support but insists it needs more evidence before acting. The government has put forward funds for a pilot project but this will only provide some temporary relief to some women. The change we need to ensure the human rights of migrant women are protected is through a robust law."
A spokesperson for the Government told Metro.co.uk: "Anyone who has suffered domestic abuse must be treated as a victim first and foremost, regardless of their immigration status.
"The Support for Migrant Victims Scheme is the result of the government's work on tackling domestic abuse and its landmark Domestic Abuse Bill, which is currently going through the House of Lords. This will provide £1.5million to deliver specialist support to migrant victims, with the aim of building a solid evidence base for the help they need.
"The Destitute Domestic Violence Concession further supports migrant victims on certain spousal visas and lifts the no recourse to public funds condition, enabling access to welfare benefits for a temporary period."