In Britain’s brave new ‘hostile environment’ immigration enforcement trumps protection and support for women facing violence and abuse.

As new Home Secretary Sajid Javid works his way through what is sure to be an over-flowing inbox, he will find that the impact of the ‘hostile environment’ policies employed by the Home Office extends well beyond the Windrush generation.

Several women’s groups were joined by charity representatives at parliament last Wednesday to present a new report detailing how women are so fearful of detention and deportation that they do not report crimes of sexual and domestic violence to the police, nor seek to escape the abuse, despite being entitled to support and protection under the law.

Our experience over decades of working with victims of domestic abuse reinforces the findings of the report; in order to report domestic abuse, victims need to feel safe and believed; how can they, when reporting may lead to an investigation of their immigration status and not of the abuse they are reporting?

The briefing ‘Women living in a hostile environment’, produced by the End Violence Against Women Coalition, concludes that the hostile environment policy is being used by abusive men to threaten and control women; the emphasis on immigration enforcement over protection and support is trapping many women in violent situations.

In one case study, a woman who had faced death threats and attempted strangulation by her husband sought support from specialist women’s services to report her situation to the police – but rather than investigating the crime, they seemed much more interested in examining her immigration status. No action was taken against the perpetrator.

Women, including those who have been victims of trafficking, are asylum-seekers, or dependent on visas linked to work or student status, or visas connected to their spouse or partner, live in fear of rigid internal immigration checks whenever they attend a GP’s surgery, hospital, school, college or police station. Women’s immigration status is overriding concerns for their safety and protection.

The briefing makes six recommendations to address these issues:
• A new statutory definition of domestic violence that recognises threats related to women’s immigration status can be elements of domestic violence and abusive situations.
• Public authorities, including the police, Crown Prosecution Service and the courts, should be given specific instructions that protection of victims and pursuit of justice should always be put ahead of immigration enforcement.
• A firewall should be created between critical public services and immigration control, to ensure the safety and rights of women always takes precedence over immigration policy.
• Extend the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession to at least six months and ensure it is available to all victims of gender-based violence – and make timely decisions on right-to-remain cases where domestic violence or other violence against women is a factor.
• Government to protect and extend specialist services to migrant women facing abuse.
• Review all future legislation, including all new immigration laws and the Brexit Immigration Bill to assess potential impact on women experiencing violence and abuse.

The Government has committed itself to ratifying the Istanbul Convention on ending violence against women, which includes a clause on the protection of women regardless of their immigration status. Difficult to see how that aim can be achieved while immigration status continually trumps the right of women in Britain to access services and recourse to justice when they become victims of violence and abuse!

Over to you Home Secretary!

Supporting Justice C.I.C 5.5.18