Migrant women subjected to domestic abuse are being left unsupported by the authorities and at the mercy of their tormentors, dozens of activists have warned.
They are calling for emergency protection for migrant women who are experiencing domestic violence during the Covid-19 pandemic.
More than 50 signatories have sent a letter to the government calling for change, including representatives of campaign groups, a councillor and an author.
The lockdown has seen an increase in global domestic violence cases, prompting the the UN to describe the spike as a “shadow pandemic”.
The letter reads: “As you know, violence against women and girls is on the rise in the UK as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and government response. Women and girls are reporting increased sexual and racialised harassment in public spaces and online.
“They are trapped with abusers in conditions ripe for increased sexual, domestic and honour-based violence. Violence against women and girls reports may well increase further after restrictions are lifted as women and girls, who see few options during lockdown, are more able to access help.”
The signatories, which include Labour councillor Shaista Aziz and author Maya Goodfellow, are demanding that the government step up efforts to protect at-risk migrant women, irrespective of their immigration status, including by:
- Abolishing the Home Office’s no recourse to public funds condition for all women escaping violence, which was today estimated by Citizens’ Advice to affect 1.4m people;
- Working with specialist violence against women and girls services to house all migrant women escaping violence;
- Suspending all healthcare charges, not just ones related to Covid-19;
- Launching a communications campaign that is accessible and produced in different languages to ensure all women experiencing violence know what help is available.
Backers of the letter represent various organisations including the Runnymede Trust, BARAC UK, Safety4Sisters and Level Up.
Gisela Valle, director at the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS), told HuffPost UK: “The issue here is that there’s a whole category of women who do not have equal treatment when they are subjected to domestic abuse – the response from the state is completely different. Nobody believes you’re a victim and, even if they do, they don’t treat you like one. Your immigration status takes complete precedence. The needs of your children, if you have any, don’t make a difference; we have seen this time again.
“The heart of that is discrimination. Being in front of the police to report a crime, often they don’t believe you, think you’re gaming the system and looking for a way to remain in the UK; social services don’t believe you and often think it’s appropriate to leave children with perpetrators if they’re a British citizen.”
“This letter is important because it touches on all specific ways where there’s no equality for migrants. If you look and sound one way you’ll have one response and if you look and sound another, you’ll have a different one – and that’s no response.
“Oftentimes this is why survivors go back to perpetrators in these cases – what choice do they have?”
There was one woman who presented herself to the police with bruises who suggested she inflicted it upon herself, Valle said.
“We have been locked up by abusers and family, we have been locked up by the Home Office and now we are locked up again – how much can we bear?” another asylum seeking woman told LAWRS.
Meanwhile, four in five migrant women are turned away from refuges, and they are often too scared to seek healthcare, according to a recent Amnesty report.
Migrant women are prevented from reporting domestic abuse to the police or other statutory services as perpetrators threaten them with deportation.
One such case is that of Rita – who came to the UK with her EU partner and her first child. She entered the country on a tourist visa, and as her partner refused to apply to regularise her immigration status, she became undocumented.
Since 2013, she has experienced multiple forms of violence from her partner who continuously threatened her with deportation, Valle told HuffPost UK.
They have three children together and separated in 2019, while their kids remained with the perpetrator. However, the abuse intensified as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic through child contact.
“We have been locked up by abusers and family, we have been locked up by the Home Office and now we are locked up again – how much can we bear?’”
Moreover, Rita lost her job and income, meaning she could not afford her rent. Due to the Home Office’s “no recourse to public funds” policy, she is ineligible to apply for any welfare support. For that reason, and facing a real risk of destitution, Rita was convinced to share a room with one of her flatmates.
At the beginning of June, he sexually assaulted her while threatening her with eviction. She is currently sofa surfing with friends and her caseworker is trying to find her emergency accommodation.
“Covid-19 is not only a public health crisis but a human rights one,” the letter states.
“In the aftermath of the Hidden Harms Summit hosted by the Prime Minister on May 21, we ask the government to translate its commitment on violence against women and girls to action to safeguard the lives, physical security and mental wellbeing of migrant women.”
If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the police. If you are not in immediate danger, you can contact:
- The Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run by Refuge: 0808 2000 247
- In Scotland, contact Scotland’s 24 hour Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline: 0800 027 1234
- In Northern Ireland, contact the 24 hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline: 0808 802 1414
- In Wales, contact the 24 hour Life Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800.
- National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428
- Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327
- Respect helpline (for anyone worried about their own behaviour): 0808 802 0321