UK: Domestic abuse services call for urgent support for migrant victims blocked from safety, healthcare and refuges
Coronavirus putting increasing strain on specialist domestic abuse services which are ‘falling apart at the seams’ and already ‘having to close doors’
Domestic abuse services and human rights organisations call for emergency protections for migrant women, as Home Secretary vows she will ‘not let down’ victims of domestic abuse amid crisis
‘At a time when safety and healthcare is what we all need, migrant women victims of domestic abuse are denied these fundamental lifelines’ – open letter to the Home Secretary
More than 20 BME specialist frontline services, migrant and human rights organisations in the UK have written an open letter to the Home Secretary calling for emergency support to help migrant victims of domestic abuse amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
The letter - organised by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service and Amnesty International UK - expresses concern for the impact the current health emergency is having on domestic abuse cases, as self-isolation inevitably leads to an increase in violence.
It comes a day after the Home Secretary’s comments in a national newspaper which clarified that domestic abuse victims are allowed to leave home to seek help at refuges despite measures put in place to stop COVID-19 spreading. The Home Secretary also made a pledge "to every potential victim”: “we have not forgotten you and we will not let you down”.
Despite this, the Government has not provided any additional funds or resources to help frontline services cope with the additional strain during the health crisis. The organisations warn that the Home Secretary’s guarantee doesn’t go far enough to support women with an insecure immigration status, who often don’t have access to public funds and therefore don’t qualify for refuge beds.
Four in five migrant women are turned away from refuges, and they are often too scared to seek healthcare. At the same time, migrant women are prevented from reporting domestic abuse to the police or other statutory services as perpetrators threat them with deportation.
Domestic abuse services ‘falling apart at the seams’
The letter warns that refuges and counselling services are “at full capacity and are falling apart at the seams”, with most services “already having to close doors to protect staff and the people we support”.
The organisations are urging the Government to “protect the many victims of this horrendous crime”, no matter what their immigration status, including by:
- ensuring adequate funding and support for specialist services and refuges;
- ending all NHS charging that prevents or deters access to treatment necessary in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic;
- stopping data sharing between statutory services such as the police and health services and the Home Office;
- abolishing the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ condition that prevents migrant women with insecure immigration status from accessing vital support; and
- using the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill to ensure migrant women are offered equal protections to other survivors.
Full letter and signatories:
Dear Secretary of State,
‘At a time when safety and healthcare is what we all need, migrant women victims of domestic abuse are denied these fundamental lifelines’
The Step Up Migrant Women campaign - a coalition of more than 40 BME and migrant specialist frontline services, domestic abuse services, social justice and human rights organisations, led by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service - are writing to urge you to establish an emergency national strategy that ensures migrant victims of domestic abuse can access the support they need in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We understand that self-isolating, social distancing and staying at home are necessary measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect each other. But whilst home is often seen as a sanctuary, for many it is a place of hostility, violence and danger. For that reason, we are concerned about evidence showing increasing numbers of domestic abuse cases due to quarantine emergency measures.
Domestic abuse affects roughly two million people a year in the UK, the majority of whom are women. For those who experience violence at home, the prospect of self-isolating – of being locked in with your abuser – is terrifying beyond belief. And for those who cannot access the support they need – those who do not qualify for spaces in refuges, and those who are too scared to seek healthcare or call the police for help – the situation can be unbearable.
Many women with insecure immigration status do not have access to public funds so are often blocked from accessing safety and the support they need – four in five are, for instance, turned away from refuges. They are reluctant to go to the doctor or hospital if they are worried about their health, because they are scared they will be reported to immigration enforcement. At the same time, migrant women are prevented from reporting domestic abuse to the police or other statutory services since perpetrators use immigration status as a tool of coercive control threatening them with detention, deportation, destitution or separation from their children.
Over the next few months, the situation is only going to get worse. Evidence from China and Italy is emerging that the COVID-19 crisis will exacerbate domestic abuse. More and more people will rely on frontline domestic abuse services, on refuges and counselling services. But these services are already at full capacity and are falling apart at the seams. Most of us are already having to close our doors to protect our staff and the people we support. We are working endless hours to put our services online, and to make sure we are able to carry on providing women with lifesaving advice and counselling services. However, we are worried that the vulnerability of migrant women may increase since specialist BME and migrant services are experiencing shrinking capacity due the lack of face-to-face support as a consequence of the virus outbreak.
We are in a crisis, and we need the Government to urgently act to protect the many victims of these horrendous crimes. For all the reasons above we are joining with the voices of other BME, migrant and social justice organisations and the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) sector - who are working together to set out what the government must do to protect all victims. From the Step Up Migrant Women coalition we calling on the government to:
- Stop data-sharing between all statutory services - including the police and healthcare services - and the Home Office. In the context of this health emergency the government must put victims’ safety before immigration enforcement.
- End all NHS charging that prevents or deters access to treatment necessary in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the context of this health emergency this deterrent represents a high risk for migrant women and the wider public.
- Abolishing the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ condition, which prevents many migrant women with insecure immigration status from accessing vital, often life-saving support and routes to safety.
- Ensure adequate funding and support for specialist BME and migrant organisations, including refuges, so they can reach the most vulnerable and marginalised members of society.
- Use the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill to ensure migrant women are no longer left behind and have access to the same protections regardless of their immigration status. If migrant survivors had access to safety and support and could go to the police for help without fear of deportation, the situation would not be as dire as the one we are now facing.
The Step Up Migrant Women coalition is calling on the Government to ensure that victims are treated as victims first by prioritising their safety before their immigration status
1. Abi Brunswick, Director, Project 17
2. Asfah Kosir, Immigration adviser, Kiran Support Services
3. Baljit Banga, Director, Imkaan
4. Clare Collier, Advocacy Director, Liberty
5. Daf Viney, Director of Services at Hackney Migrant Centre
6. Elizabeth Jiménez-Yáñez, Coordinator, Step Up Migrant Women Campaign
7. Fiona Dwyer, Chief Executive, Solace
8. Fizza Qureshi- CEO, Migrants' Rights Network
9. Gisela Valle, Director, Latin American Women’s Rights Services
10. Halaleh Taheri, Executive Director, MEWSo
11. Jemima Olchawski, Chief Executive, Agenda
12. Kate Allen, Director, Amnesty International UK
13. Katie Richards, Trustee, Refugee Women’s Centre
14. Lucila Granada, Director, FLEX
15. Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director, Women’s Budget Group
16. Natasha Walter and Marchu Girma, Directors, Women for Refugee Women
17. Nicki Norman, Acting Co-Chief Executive, Women’s Aid Federation of England
18. Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, Chief Executive, Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA)
19. Pragna Patel, Director, Southall Black Sisters
20. Rena Sodhi, Director, London Black Women’s Project
21. Rosa dos Ventos Lopes Heimer, Policy Coordinator, Latin American Women’s Aid
22. Rosalind Bragg, Director, Maternity Action
23. Sarah Green, Director, End Violence Against Women Coalition
24. Satbir Singh, Chief Executive, JCWI
25. Sawsan Salim, Director, KMEWO
26. Vicky Marsh, Advocacy & Support Worker, Safety4Sisters
27. Vivienne Hayes, CEO, Women’s Resource Centre
28. Umme Imam, Executive Director, The Angelou Centre