Step Up Migrant Women

Restricted Access: Migrant Women Facing Domestic Abuse Struggle for Support

Step Up Migrant Women (SUMV), an organisation consisting of over 40 women’s rights campaigners, are demanding the next British Government include migrant women in protective services provided for domestic abuse survivors.

‘Ask me if I’m safe, not where I’m from’ campaign by SUMW to call on the Government to grant migrant women access to refuge beds and domestic abuse services, June 2019. [Amnesty International].

The campaign comes around again with fresh vigour as PM Boris Johnson pledges to pick up the Domestic Abuse Bill which was dropped and undone after the prorogation of Parliament. However, even in its final draft form, the Bill fell short from stretching out support to migrant women.

Women who have suffered abuse deserve the appropriate care that is delivered by professionals in a safe and nurturing environment, regardless of the survivor’s background. Yet migrant women are outright excluded. The coalition is led by the Latin American Women’s Right Service (LAWRS) who are calling on the Government once more to make the Domestic Abuse Bill inclusive regardless of immigration status.

SUMV has further called on the British public to express solidarity with migrant women and to call on officials to act in order to boost awareness of their petition.

Migrant women are uniquely affected by the issue of domestic abuse. Under hostile immigration policies, there are extreme difficulties in accessing the support needed. Not only are they burdened by the ‘no recourse to public funds’ rule, but visa rules further dictate that they remain anchored to their partner. This makes fleeing a violent and/or abusive household additionally harder – not to mention many refuges amid council budget cuts and mass underfunding have been forced to close and often have little to few beds available.

Women who have suffered abuse deserve the appropriate care that is delivered by professionals in a safe and nurturing environment, regardless of the survivor’s background.

Most migrant women fear and distrust the local British authorities with their case. Many women speak of their fears about being locked away in a detention centre for endless – indefinite – months or being deported to a country where they might face further abuse, particularly familial or honour-based violence.

Yet 60% of UK police forces admit they have passed on victims’ personal details to the Home Office if the victim has “insecure immigration status”. It is little wonder so many migrant women feel they cannot report their abusers and why so many endure five years of abuse until they can pass the threshold for an independent visa that isn’t reliant on their spouse for sponsorship such as Indefinite Leave to Remain.

Step Up Migrant Women
Step Up Migrant Women’s campaign to prioritise safety over the immigration status of migrant women experiencing domestic abuse [SUMW]

Co-ordinator of Step Up Migrant Women, Elizabeth Jiménez Yáñez, said: “Migrant women deserve to have safe reporting mechanisms and to be protected. We call for a Domestic Abuse Bill that protects all women regardless of their immigration status.”

Migrant women are uniquely affected by the issue of domestic abuse. Under hostile immigration policies, there are extreme difficulties in accessing the support needed.

SUMV has advised that people can show their support in three key ways to ensure migrant women’s voices are heard and raise the profile of this vital campaign.

Firstly, by signing the online petition as this will bring awareness to SUMV’s work and show politicians this is an issue that thousands of people care about. If honoured, it will extend protection to all survivors and not discriminate based on immigration status.

Secondly, a letter to a migrant woman is a personal way to show your support and remind someone in distress that they are not alone.

Thirdly, SUMV encourages members of the public to follow and support them online such as using Twitter to speak out about the #StepUpMigrantWomen movement.

Letters can be sent to: Migrant Women, c/o Amnesty International UK, The Human Rights Action Centre, 17-25 New Inn Yard, London, EC2A 3EA.

SUMV are active in their work to make policing more inclusive towards the needs of migrant women. As abusers often use the threat of deportation to control their victims, victims can remain trapped in silence for years. And with no clear legal protection from immigration enforcement, this keeps perpetrators of violence in a place of power over their victim. SUMV call on the police to comply with the Human Rights Act (1998) Articles 2, 3, 4 and 8, to put victims’ safety before potential immigration control.

Much of the outcome depends on the result of the General Election but whatever that may be, one thing is clear: no one should live in fear.

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