UK Government’s Domestic Violence Reforms ‘Risk Failing’ Migrant Women

Southall Black Sisters and others call on the government to ensure that the Domestic Violence Bill includes a comprehensive plan of action based on protection and not immigration enforcement for all migrant women.

The Step Up Migrant Women Coalition welcome a Home Affairs Select Committee report on the upcoming Domestic Abuse Bill, in particular, its recognition of the gender inequality underlying domestic abuse, and the disproportionate impact on women and girls, but warn its recommendations don’t go far enough if migrant women are to be protected.

The UK Government risks failing migrant women if it neglects to put their experiences at the centre of domestic violence law reforms, said the Step Up Migrant Women (SUMW) Coalition today, as the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on the forthcoming Bill on Domestic Violence and Abuse.

SUMW – a coalition of more than 30 organisations including Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS), Southall Black Sisters, Amnesty International UK, Sisters For Change and End Violence Against Women Campaign – has welcomed the report, which puts pressure on the UK Government to ensure equal protection for migrant women suffering domestic abuse in its forthcoming Bill on Domestic Violence.

The SUMW Coalition supports the Committee’s clear message to the Government that the Bill must:

  • offer protection and support to women regardless of immigration status;
  • make specialist organisations led by and for migrant and black and minority ethnic women – which have had their services decimated by funding cuts – a central part of tackling domestic abuse and violence;
  • ensure refuge provision becomes a statutory obligation backed by national ring-fenced funding.

However, The SUMW Coalition warns that some of the HASC’s recommendations do not go far enough. Whilst the report acknowledges the need for a review into police practice regarding the reporting of migrant women to the Home Office for immigration purposes – which prevents women from reporting their abuse and threatens their safety – the SUMW Coalition is calling for a system of full confidentiality and protection for all migrant women who report their abuse, regardless of their immigration status, and for this to be extended to all statutory services which support victims of violence, including GPs.

Illary Valenzuela Oblitas, Policy and Communications Co-ordinator at LAWRS, said:

“As the Step Up Migrant Women coalition we stress the importance of having a victim-centred Bill that acknowledges the rights of migrant women and the crucial support of specialist services. The duty of the police and statutory services is not to criminalise victims’ immigration status but that of promoting public safety and protecting all victims of crime and abuse.”

Pragna Patel, Director at Southall Black Sisters, said:

We welcome the Home Affairs Select Committee’s proposals to improve protection for black and minority women, but they do not go far enough. Too many migrant women will be failed if a coherent strategy on violence against migrant women and girls is not put in place.

“Insecure immigration status and lack of access to housing and independent financial means renders many migrant women vulnerable and completely at the mercy of their abusers who manipulate their powerlessness with impunity.

“Immigration enforcement appears to be the overriding priority for the UK government, rather than providing protection or pursuing criminal charges.  This alarming response deters migrant women from reporting their abuse for fear of deportation and amounts to state complicity in their abuse.

“If the government is serious in protecting all women from domestic abuse and violence, it needs to not only adopt the recommendations made by the Home Affairs Select Committee but also develop a holistic rights-based policy that ends the current discriminatory approach to the protection of migrant women.”

Chiara Capraro, Amnesty International UK’s Women’s Rights Programme Manager, said:

“We welcome the Home Affair Select Committee’s clear message to the government that the current proposals for the Bill on Domestic Violence are too narrow and risk failing migrant women.

“Migrant women in abusive relationships are currently trapped and further victimised by their immigration status – excluded from financial support which often makes them reliant on their abuser, and threatened with deportation should they seek support from the police.

“Police forces continue to share details of victims with the Home Office for immigration purposes, which is allowing perpetrators to use immigration enforcement as a weapon to control and abuse their victims. This must stop.

‘The government’s Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill will be a sham unless it provides equal protection to all women, including those with insecure migration status. The Home Affair Select Committee recognises this, and we urge the government to act upon their recommendations.”

Media Contacts

Stand Up for Migrant Women: https://stepupmigrantwomen.org

Illary Valenzuela, LAWRS: illary@lawrs.org.uk

Pragna Patel, Southall Black Sisters: pragna@southallblacksisters.co.uk

Ella Berny Amnesty International: ella.berny@amnesty.org.uk

Jane Gordon, Sisters For Change: jgordon@sistersforchange.org.uk

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