SBS Seeks Support for Amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill
A big Thank You to all our users, LAWRS, supporters and MPs who made the meeting on the 18th March on migrant women and the Domestic Abuse Bill such a success. There is a growing consensus that the exclusion of migrant women from any meaningful protection in the Bill is untenable.
Please help us to build a momentum for our #ProtectionForAll campaign.
What we are calling for:
- An extension of the Domestic Violence Rule to cover all abused migrant women;
- An Extension of the Destitution and Domestic Violence Concession to cover all abused migrant women and to extend the period from three to six months;
- A comprehensive strategy on violence against abused migrant women and girls so that it addresses all the barriers that prevent them from obtaining effective protection and justice.
For more information on these amendments and why they are necessary please read our briefing paper below.
What you can do?
- Please sign here if you or your organisation wishes to support these amendments and encourage others to sign up;
- Please write to your respective MPs asking them to support these amendments during the passage of the Bill.
- Please do join our mailing list for updates on our #ProtectionForAll campaign and follow us on social media and support us to ensure these amendments are adopted.
Protection from abuse and torture is a human right; it cannot be dependent on visa status.
“I was used as a servant, nobody helped if I was ill. There was a lot of fighting, he pulled my hair, strangled me and choked me. I was not allowed to call my family. I couldn’t take my son out. I was like a slave, a prisoner… When I asked for £5 my husband gave me a beating…They were torturing me, hitting me. I was all day working for them, finding fault with everything. Abusing me, my family. My husband was hitting me, kicking me. He was offering me dog shit to eat. He said he wanted to kill me.” - (SBS service user with insecure immigration status)
On 21st January 2019, the government published its much-anticipated response to the domestic abuse consultation and a draft bill. As a frontline organisation supporting migrant women, we are disappointed that the Bill does not remedy the discriminations migrant women face when seeking protection from violence and abuse. We were promised a ‘landmark’ act that would offer protection for all women. What we have is a Bill that fails to deliver anything of substance for migrant women. Only two out of the 196-page government response are devoted to migrant women and as things stand, migrant women who are at risk of the most serious and prolonged forms of abuse, slavery and harm cannot access justice or protection if they have unsettled immigration status. They are effectively excluded from the few protective measures that are contained in the Bill.
SBS has prepared this briefing paper to outline the deficiencies and potential human rights violations in the government’s draft Bill. We seek support for amendments to ensure that migrant women facing abuse have enjoy equal right to protection and safety without fear of deportation or destitution.
No meaningful support
The Bill makes reference to support for victims of domestic abuse who have ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) but fails to remedy the desperate circumstances in which many abused migrant women subject to NRPF - who do not enter the UK under spousal/partner visas and are therefore subject to NRPF - find themselves.
The government points to the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC), but this is not available to all abused migrant women. The DDVC is limited to those who are eligible to apply for the Domestic Violence Rule (DV Rule) only, i.e. those who arrived in the UK with spousal visas. The government also refers to the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) as a safety net for asylum seekers but makes no mention of the sheer inadequacy of that support. There are significant numbers of abused migrant women who have other types of visas, such as student and work visas with the NRPF condition attached and cannot therefore access NASS support or the DDVC.
Nor does the government acknowledge the many concerns that we and many other migrant women’s organisations have voiced about the ineffectiveness of the little support that is available under the DDVC or NASS systems for various reasons: the lack of sufficient time to gather evidence to prove domestic abuse; the lack of access to legal aid lawyers, specialist services and emergency accommodation; the failure of the DWP to allow benefit applications where women do qualify for the DDVC or the dispersal policy for asylum seeking women under NASS, which often removes them from the support networks they need, leaving them even more vulnerable and isolated. This is discussed in more detail in the ‘Amendments’ section below.
For over a decade we have regularly provided written and oral evidence to the government to show that BME women are more likely to suffer abuse for longer periods of time and from multiple perpetrators. We have repeatedly demonstrated that migrant women are particularly exposed to higher rates of domestic and sexual violence as well as harmful cultural practices, sexual and economic exploitation, domestic abuse-related homicide (including ‘honour’ killings) and suicide. As a result of the NRPF rule, they are also more likely to face homelessness and destitution, exploitation and concordant mental health problems. And yet this group of women find it extraordinarily challenging to access support. Their NRPF status prevents them from accessing public funds or support. They are routinely turned away even by those agencies that are set up to provide support for abused women or humanitarian care. Many services simply do not have the specialist skills to assist women with insecure status. Others lack the resources to do so. Refuges tend not to accommodate women with NRPF because of the lack of any certainty as to how long they will have to accommodate women on a rent-free basis. The Women’s Aid Nowhere to Turn Project (2017) identified an average of only one refuge space per region in England available for a woman with NRPF. Women with insecure status are also often too afraid to access health services or police protection as they fear (with considerable justification) that these services are linked to immigration enforcement.
A victim-centred Bill would recognise all this. It would recognise that all migrant women who have experienced domestic abuse - regardless of their immigration status - should have equal access to the welfare system, to the courts and to all the other social and legal tools which provide protection and facilitate access to justice. In this draft Bill, it appears that little more than lip service is being paid to the needs of migrant women who have severely restricted routes to safety and support. Many migrant women will continue to be placed outside the state’s safety net that is available to other abused women.
Human Rights violations
We consider that the continuing exclusion of migrant women from protection amounts to a breach of the UK’s obligations under domestic and international human rights law, in particular the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence 2011 (‘the Istanbul Convention’).
The failure to include proper protection for migrant women in the Bill amounts to potential breaches of ECHR article 2 (right to life), article 3 (right to be free from inhuman/degrading treatment), and article 8 (right to private and family life including physical and moral personal integrity) especially when taken together with article 14 (non-discrimination in the enjoyment of Convention rights).
The UK is a party to CEDAW, which requires the UK to put in place immediate comprehensive laws and policies to eliminate discrimination against women: discrimination against women includes all forms of violence against women and girls. The CEDAW Committee has elaborated on the detail of what State parties should do to address violence against women in its General Recommendation 35. Paragraph 31 of General Recommendation 35 requires States to “repeal all legal provisions that discriminate against women, and thereby enshrine, encourage, facilitate, justify or tolerate any form of gender-based violence against them; […] in particular, repeal, restrictive immigration laws that discourage women, including migrant domestic workers, from reporting this violence.” The CEDAW Committee called on the UK to ensure that no woman subject to domestic abuse be subjected to the NRPF during its last review of the UK, in 2013. More recently in its concluding observations on the United Kingdom, CEDAW has once again recommended that the UK government ensure that ‘asylum- seeking women, migrants and women with insecure immigration status are able to seek effective protection and support services without fear of having their immigration status reported to authorities ’.
The Istanbul Convention also contains a number of important obligations pertaining to protection from abuse. The government has signalled its intention to ratify the Istanbul Convention once final changes have been made to UK law through the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill and, for this reason alone, conformity to the Convention obligations is very important. The following articles are particularly relevant to migrant women:
Article 4, provides that there shall be no discrimination in the enjoyment of Convention Rights on the basis of, for example, ‘migrant and refugee status’. Any policy which prevents migrant women accessing protection from abuse, or which discourages migrant women from reporting and penalises them when they do, must be seen to be depriving migrant victims of abuse (as opposed to citizens/those with settled status) of the full enjoyment of their rights and protections;
Article 5, on state obligations and due diligence, provides that:
Parties shall refrain from engaging in any act of violence against women and ensure that State authorities, officials, agents, institutions and other actors acting on behalf of the State act in conformity with this obligation.
Parties shall take the necessary legislative and other measures to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, punish and provide reparation for acts of violence covered by the scope of this Convention that are perpetrated by non-State actors.
The government has failed to examine the detrimental consequences of current immigration policies for victims of abuse. These policies do not just fail to adequately protect abused migrant women, but actively and effectively trap them into cycles of abuse and deny them reparation in the face of this abuse. We consider the government’s failure to assess this amounts to a lack of due diligence which appears to breach Article 5 of the Istanbul Convention.
Article 7, provides that:
Parties shall take the necessary legislative and other measures to adopt and implement State-wide effective, comprehensive and co-ordinated policies encompassing all relevant measures to prevent and combat all forms of violence covered by the scope of this Convention and offer a holistic response to violence against women.
Parties shall ensure that policies referred to in paragraph 1 place the rights of the victim at the centre of all measures and are implemented by way of effective co-operation among all relevant agencies, institutions and organisations.
Measures taken pursuant to this article shall involve, where appropriate, all relevant actors, such as government agencies, the national, regional and local parliaments and authorities, national human rights institutions and civil society organisations.
Chapter IV requires the provision of comprehensive victim support measures. A comprehensive package of support, available to all without discrimination, is not evident in the draft Bill or response.
Article 59 provides, inter alia, that:
“Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that victims whose residence status depends on that of the spouse or partner as recognised by internal law, in the event of the dissolution of the marriage or the relationship, are granted in the event of particularly difficult circumstances, upon application, an autonomous residence permit irrespective of the duration of the marriage or the relationship.”
The government has failed to take into account the effect of immigration laws and policies in i) increasing migrant women’s dependency on their abusers and ii) heightening their risk to abuse. This is tantamount to indirect state engagement with acts of violence by non-state actors. It amounts to a breach of the State’s positive obligations under the Convention. The lack of a co-ordinated approach that takes into account the difficult circumstances of migrant women means that they cannot safely apply for permanent residency in the UK as victims of abuse.
The government has failed to comply with the duty in article 7 to adopt and implement an effective, co-ordinated and comprehensive policy towards all abused migrant women. The failure to take a holistic approach in drafting this Bill as required by article 7(1) and the failure to place the rights of the victim at the centre of all measures as required by article 7(2), amount to potential breaches of Article 7.
We call for amendments to the Bill to protect abused migrant women
In view of the above, we reject the government’s woefully inadequate measures for migrant women. We call for three amendments to ensure that the Bill is fit for purpose.
- Extend eligibility under the Domestic Violence (DV) Rule and Destitution and Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC)
- Extend the timeframe for the DDVC to 6 months
The government says: We have considered the policy rationale for extending the destitute domestic violence concession from three to six months and have concluded that it would make little difference in supporting victims while they make arrangements regarding their future immigration status. This is because the vast majority of applications for indefinite leave to remain made on the basis of suffering domestic abuse are resolved quickly and well within three months.
We say: This is not true. We have provided considerable evidence in our consultation response to show that the time period for which the DDVC is provided is insufficient and needs to be extended to at least six months. The government is aware that current provision for protection for all migrant women is seriously short of the standard to be expected to fulfil its equality and human rights obligations. Our consultation response has set out in considerable detail the many barriers that migrant women face in obtaining safe accommodation, support and legal representation needed to make applications within the three month period. It is disingenuous to argue that most applications for indefinite leave are decided within the three months, when the government is fully aware that for many women it is a huge struggle to access advice and gather the evidence needed to make the applications within the three month period. The government is aware that an independent evaluation of the DDVC (above) facilitated by SBS is underway. The interim findings show that abused migrant women face a number of significant obstacles:
The 3 month time limit allowed by the DDVC has proved to be a major barrier to women in obtaining accommodation since refuges and landlords do not want to risk the uncertainty of what happens after 3 months if leave is not secured. This means that even with the DDVC, many migrant women cannot access emergency accommodation and are left homeless.
Even with the DDVC, women are not able to obtain state benefits. We have seen several cases where the DWP simply does not recognise the ‘waiver’ granted by the Home Office. Even where the DDVC is ‘accepted’, it can take 6 weeks for an application to be processed and for many to actually receive their benefits. Moreover, this whole process requires that applicants have a bank account before making a claim for benefits. This ignores the fact that it is extraordinarily difficult for those with unsettled status - including abused migrant women - to obtain a bank account. Most are in temporary or emergency accommodation and therefore do not have one of the prescribed forms of address required by banks to open an account.
3 months is simply not long enough for migrant women to obtain legal advice and representation. This is due, in part, to a dearth of legal-aid immigration lawyers across England and Wales following severe cuts to legal aid under LASPO in 2012.
Many women struggle to gain access adequate support and the counselling that is needed if they are to make a successful recovery and gather the evidence needed to support their DV Rule applications. 3 months is not, in our experience, enough time for a support service to undertake crisis intervention work with a client, let alone put in place any meaningful and holistic ‘wrap-around’ support needed to enable women to unravel what are difficult and complex immigration matters.
The decimation of women’s services along together with a consequent dearth of specialist workers who can support abused migrant women is now a growing problem. There are many parts of the country where there is no adequate support available to such women. We have known these women to spend months being passed ‘from pillar to post’ because agencies simply cannot or will not help them.
A comprehensive strategy on violence against migrant women
“I did report and they said that because I had no recourse and he was British that he has more rights than me. I was made to claim asylum without getting proper immigration advice.” - (Safety4Sisters servicer user)
The government says: We will help build long-term capacity and expertise about immigration rights for those working to combat domestic abuse. We will build on current protections under the destitute domestic violence concession to improve our understanding of the number of migrant victims who need crisis support, providing funding for such projects through a £500,000 grant.
We say: On the basis of the wealth of available evidence, the government must think again. We are concerned that the government has made a decision to allocate the paltry sum of £800,000. Without any proper consultation with specialist service providers and without hearing evidence from our Tampon Tax ‘no recourse’ project, the government has made the decision to allocate £500,000 to projects providing crisis support for migrant women and £300,000 to generally “build the capacity of and strengthen specialist BAME organisations” . We are unclear as to how the government arrived at these figures but they are not sufficient. To give an example: under our emergency ‘no recourse’ fund for destitute women, the level of support we provide (for those in London) is £30 subsistence per week and housing costs up to £240 per week (which usually covers Bed and Breakfast type accommodation for 12 weeks). The cost of supporting one woman for 12 weeks is £3240. £500,000 would allow us to support 154 women for 12 weeks only. It is evident that the needs of migrant women with NRPF far exceed the resources offered by the government. In a context where millions are being spent elsewhere to strengthen protection for abused women, what is being offered to migrant women appears differential and discriminatory. For example, the government has said that £24 million over three years has been allocated to provide advice, support and counselling for women affected by rape and sexual abuse. But migrant women with insecure status will not have access to these services because of the barriers they face due to their unstable immigration, social and economic situation, as set out above. How is a migrant victim of sexual abuse meant to effectively access ‘advice, support and counselling’ whilst she is destitute and in fear of deportation? Moreover, the offer of ‘crisis’ support is of very little assistance to migrant women with multiple and complex needs who need long-term help to stabilise their difficult circumstances.
The government says: We will consider how best to raise awareness of the destitute domestic violence concession and the support that is available to migrant victims.
We say: The problem is not the ‘lack of awareness’ of the DDVC but the lack of resources and contradictory immigration policies that undermine support for abused migrant women. This is well understood within the VAWG sector and in statutory services. We are concerned that service providers are turning away many migrant women not for lack of awareness but because they do not fulfil the DDVC criteria. Even those who do qualify under the DDVC often find themselves homeless because refuges and landlords do not want the uncertainty of what happens if the immigration matter is not resolved within 3 months. SBS’s submission to the consultation on the Bill highlighted the need for a coherent and comprehensive strategy on abused migrant women that conforms to human rights standards and obligations set out in the ECHR and the Istanbul Convention.
SBS is calling for a holistic and comprehensive strategy that focuses on protection for all abused migrant women much in the same way that there are now is coherent and multi-pronged strategy for VAWG in general. A holistic and intersectional approach to migrant women is needed to ensure that they are properly protected and supported. If the government is seriously committing to mitigating the consequences of the ‘hostile environment’, it needs to show political will and courage to adopt a coherent, overarching policy of protection and rights for all migrant women suffering gender-based violence (including women with insecure immigration status and asylum seeking women). We recommend that the following areas are addressed in such a policy (this list is not exhaustive):
- Abolish the ‘no recourse to public funds’ restriction for all migrant women and children subject to gender-based violence;
- Extend the DV Rule and DDVC to include all migrant women and children irrespective of their visa/immigration status;
- Extend the DDVC beyond the current 3 month period to at least 6 months. The Government’s Response arbitrarily rejects any extension, without any data or evidence provided in support of the refusal;
- Reform housing and social security laws and policies to prevent abused migrant women and children from being plunged into poverty and destitution. Housing officers and DWP/Job Centre officials must be trained to deal with domestic abuse victims;
- Provide funds for more refuge places for all migrant women suffering domestic abuse along with access to a specialist, properly resourced advocacy service;
- Provided clear statutory guidance to the police, social services and health services to protect and assist victims of domestic abuse and their children, regardless of immigration status. This means de-linking immigration enforcement from the protection principle underpinning such services;
- Develop safe and confidential reporting systems for victims with insecure immigration status;
- End the degrading and disproportionate practice of detention for women who have suffered domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence in the UK or in their countries of origin;
- End the policy of dispersal for abused female asylum seekers;
- Ensure greater inclusion of foreign spouses in the visa application process, at both the stage of application and curtailment, so that they are aware of their rights;
- Provide temporary visas for women who have entered the UK on spousal/partner visas and are taken to another country and abandoned there so they can come back into the UK to exercise their rights;
- Restore the right of appeal from refused DV rule applications to the Immigration and Asylum Tribunal;
- Restore legal aid for all immigration and asylum cases;
- Review the exorbitant fees for applications and provide a simple and accessible application process for all vulnerable applicants;
- Review other ways in which the ‘hostile environment’ is compounding the vulnerability of migrant women;
- Review NHS charges and other health policies that impact on the safety and well-being of migrant victims of abuse;
- Institute ring-fenced funding for specialist BME services and refuges based on history and track record of working to further equality and human rights of women.
“I felt like a beggar on the street, it was like a nightmare for me.” - (SBS service user with no recourse to public funds)
The government says:‘We will consider the argument for widening the cohort of individuals eligible under the destitute domestic violence concession. It will take time to build an evidence base on which to base any decisions’.
We say: We have included ample evidence in our consultation response - based on current and past research and casework experience - of the dire situation faced by migrant women on non-spousal/partner visas. Protection from abuse should not depend on visa status. Interim findings from our Tampon Tax-funded project on women with NRPF show that many migrant victims of abuse who are not eligible to apply for the DDVC (because they do not have spousal/partner visas and do not qualify under the DV Rule) face serious risks and hardships. Women on student visas, domestic workers, visitor visas, and women from other categories continue to be excluded from protection and support.
Our evidence also shows that even those women on spousal/partner visas who try to re-enter the UK following abuse and abandonment in countries of origin are prevented from applying for the DDVC. We know of many cases where women who manage to return to the UK under a different entry clearance regime have been denied the right to apply for indefinite leave as victims of domestic violence or apply for the DDVC. The failure to support such women adds to the trauma and desperation in which they find themselves. It exemplifies differential and discriminatory treatment by the government of abused migrant women. Our consultation response to the Bill had set out in great detail the multiple hurdles that these and other migrant women face in exiting from abuse and seeking protection. These concerns need to be properly addressed.
The government says: ‘victims of domestic abuse may be best served by returning to their country of origin and, where it is available, to the support of their family and friends.
We say: This is a particularly bizarre, troubling and indeed misguided statement. We are not sure what purpose this serves, since the immigration system already operates a rigorous process to determine whether or not a migrant person can safely return to his/her country of origin. Due to the intense cultural stigma and shame that often attaches to separated women in their countries of origin and the complete absence of protective infrastructures in those countries it would be unsafe and, in some cases, fatal for women to return. They are likely to face further violence, exploitation, destitution and even death. Also, the suggestion that women can return to ‘family and friends’ assumes that they can be a protective factor (rather than pose additional risks themselves). We are concerned that the inclusion of this comment sends a message to the most vulnerable women in our communities that it is ‘business as usual’ as far as government policies on migration are concerned. It is a deeply troubling response at a time when the government has professed to distance itself from the indefensible and controversial ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy. This comment directly contradicts the government’s commitment to do more to support migrant victims of domestic abuse.
The government is aware of the plight of migrant women. SBS has campaigned for decades to ensure that abused migrant women who have insecure status are included in strategies and action plans on violence against women and girls. We have raised a number of concerns regarding the current immigration system and we have achieved notable changes with the introduction of the DV Rule and the DDVC . We are currently half way through a pilot project aimed at assessing the effectiveness of the DDVC. The point is to build on such achievements in order to develop a humane and compassionate policy towards all abused migrant women which is in accordance with the government’s equality and human rights obligations.
“Black women…don’t count…except where our immigration status is concerned” - (SBS service user)
The government says: The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) leads for domestic abuse and vulnerability will work with forces to raise awareness of guidance on supporting victims with insecure immigration status to help overcome barriers to reporting and accessing protection and support. Immigration Enforcement is also working with the NPCC lead on domestic abuse to ensure that police and immigration officers work collaboratively to quickly recognise victims and to ensure that immigration status is not used by perpetrators to coerce and control vulnerable migrants
We say: We have campaigned, as part of a wider coalition of women’s rights organisations led by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service, to demand safe reporting measures so that migrant women can make disclosures to statutory agencies without fearing immigration enforcement and deportation. As the evidence presented in SBS’ recent joint-super complaint with Liberty shows, many migrant women are too afraid to report. Those that do often face discriminatory or inconsistent responses and some find themselves facing immigration enforcement. We have questioned - in the super-complaint and elsewhere - what possible role immigration enforcement has in ‘safeguarding’ victims. We can see none. Safe reporting can only be achieved if there is a complete firewall between police and other agencies and immigration enforcement.
In the light of this wholescale failure by the government to adequately protect migrant women suffering abuse, we will call for the tabling of 3 amendments to the Bill. These amendments will, in short, seek to:
extend eligibility under the DV Rule;
extend the timeframe for which the DDVC is available; and
compel the government to put forward a comprehensive strategy to support and protect migrant women suffering abuse
regardless of migration/refugee status
before Parliament within a specified timeframe.
What you can do
Please show your support for these amendments and for our campaign #ProtectionForAll to ensure that migrant women are included in the DA Bill. Help us say no more. No more must migrant and refugee women be treated as second class human beings. No more must migrant and refugee women be afforded lesser rights and protections than other abused women in society. No more should the basic human right to be safe from domestic abuse and torture be dependent on visa status.
Cris McCurley – Ben Hoare Bell LLP
Latin American Women’s Rights Service
Women’s Aid Integrated Services, Nottingham
Surviving Economic Abuse
End Violence Against Women Coalition
Women’s Resource Centre
Professor Aisha K. Gill, University of Roehampton
Asian Women’s Resource Centre
Aanchal Women’s Aid
Against Violence and Abuse (AVA)
Ashiana Network London
Women’s Aid Scotland
IMECE Women’s Centre
Solace Women’s Aid
Iranian and Kurdish Womens Rights
Kiran Support Services
Welsh Women’s Aid
Rights of Women
Rights of Women
London Black Women’s Project
Dr. Ravi Thiara, University Of Warwick
Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit
Dr. Sundari Anitha, University of Lincoln
Asylum Support Appeals Project
Migrant’s Rights Network
One Law for All
Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Gita Sahgal, Centre for Secular Space
Leyla Burn, Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid
Kruti Walsh, FiLiA
Roisin Ross, Solace women’s Aid
Alice McGee, Guy’s & St. Thomas’ NHS Trust
Kathy Leach, NHS
Hannah Coombes, Women’s Resource Centre
Francesca Jarvis, Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre (RASASC)
Janet McDermott, Women’s Aid
Margaret Swift, KRAN
Nadia Chalabi, Hackney Migrant Centre
Fiaza Manzoor, Trafford Rape Crisis
Marta Righetti, Bromley & Croydon Women’s Aid
We support the amendments put forward by Southall Black Sisters to ensure that adequate measures for the protection of abused migrant women are included in the Domestic Abuse Bill