Parliament & politics: Battered women: Home Office softens stance

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The Independent Online
BATTERED women who risk being deported if they leave their husbands may be treated more sympathetically in future, a Home Office minister said yesterday.

Mike O'Brien, the immigration minister, rejected calls for a change in the immigration rules, which demand that spouses stay married a year before applying to remain here. But he said he was looking at other ways of easing the plight of women who could not leave violent husbands because they were barred from state help and had no legal right to stay.

Replying to a debate brought by Margaret Moran (Lab, Luton S), Mr O'Brien said: "What might be entirely defensible for the generality of cases could also have the effect of placing a relatively small minority of women in a terrible dilemma."

While the Government believed the rule was necessary to prevent marriages of convenience by people seeking to live in Britain, he said there would be an announcement soon of concessions on the issue.

"If we make a rule change it is a bigger step and we need to ensure we get it entirely right. What we are seeking to do is to balance controls and compassion. It raises difficult issues, but they are not insurmountable," he said.

Campaigners have argued that women in violent marriages often find themselves in a strange culture with no support and are unable to get help. Because they are not allowed to receive state aid they cannot go to refuges, which are dependent on housing benefit.