Committee Concludes the Government’s New Domestic Abuse Bill Neglects Migrant Women

Date Posted: Wednesday 14th August 2019

Domestic abuseDomestic Abuse BillmigrantmigrationVAWG

On 21st January 2019, the UK government drafted a landmark Domestic Abuse Bill which received widespread praise for its inclusion of all forms of abuse, coercion and controlling behaviour that abusers inflict on their victims, and for its new measures in supporting victims that are subjected to any manner of abuse by their partners or family members.

The draft Bill fell short, however, in proposing measures that offer greater protection to migrant and BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) women in the UK, the majority of whom face a range of highly complex additional barriers that militate against them getting the support they desperately need. Following the government’s failure to address the specific and intricate needs of migrant women who suffer from abuse, campaigners succeeded in having the draft Bill’s shortcomings analysed by MPs and Lords. The Committee’s findings were published on 14th June and highlighted several key areas of concern.

Whilst the Committee acknowledged the draft Bill’s overall positive proposals in supporting the survivors of domestic abuse, it concluded that it did not take into account the plight of migrant women who are subjected to abuse, nor did it offer any solutions to providing much-needed specialist support. As it stands, migrant victims of abuse face the harrowing choice of staying with their abuser or risk being deported. Many of these women enter the UK on a Spouse or Partner Visa – curtailing their visa would usually involve needing to leave the country. In the event of domestic abuse, migrant women are required to inform the Home Office immediately and to provide extensive evidence of the abuse that they have received. This alone is an incredibly stressful thing for any woman to do, let alone an isolated migrant woman who faces additional cultural and language barriers.

The Committee also found that, due to the uncertainty around their right to remain in the UK if they do take the brave step of leaving their abusive partner, migrant women do not have sufficient financial support or access to social housing that would enable them to live independently. Only after they have submitted evidence to the Home Office – and are approved – are they eligible for three months financial aid. Yet, exacerbating their situation, the police have also been found to report victims to immigration enforcement for deportation purposes. The threat of becoming homeless and destitute on top of the risk of being deported makes many migrant women stay in abusive relationships, which is something that the UK government is currently not taking moral accountability for. Given the fact that the rejection rate for domestic abuse victims applying for Settlement rose by 30% following the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy, it is hardly surprising that many migrant women continue to suffer in silence. In order to overcome this, the Committee strongly recommended establishing a buffer between immigration regulations and public services in order to protect, rather than deport, migrant women, and to extend the financial support to at least six months.

However, despite encouragement from the Committee, Theresa May rushed to pass the legislation on 16th July, and has “failed to include specific provisions for migrant survivors in the Bill”, claim Amnesty International.

Whilst the government’s Domestic Abuse Bill is encouraging in terms of what it is trying to achieve overall, its stark neglect of migrant women needs to be urgently addressed in order to prevent further suffering, economic destitution and isolation for migrant women in the UK.

This article has been written by Joanne Starkie who is a content writer for the Immigration Advice Service; an organisation of leading immigration lawyers.