Parliament: Women reject asylum clause

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT introduced a last-minute concession to the Immigration and Asylum Bill yesterday, designed to protect victims of domestic violence and head off criticisms of the Bill by backbench MPs. But the move was criticised by women's groups for failing to help the very people it was designed to protect.

Michael O'Brien, the Immigration minister, told the Commons the measure would allow women who came to Britain to join their husbands and later became victims of domestic violence to leave their partners but stay in the country.

According to women's groups, about 500 women a year come to Britain on the basis of marriage and find themselves trapped in a violent relationship. If they leave their husbands they face deportation, which in countries such as Pakistan and India can put them at risk of physical harm and social stigma.

In response to a parliamentary question by the Labour MP Margaret Moran, Mr O'Brien said that even if the women were still within the 12-month probationary period for being allowed into Britain, they could remain if they had "objective evidence" of domestic violence. He said such evidence would include a relevant court conviction or police caution against their partner. Other relevant evidence would be some protection orders.

But Hannana Siddiqui of the Southall Black Sisters, which has been consulted by the Government on the Bill, said "too high a standard of proof" was being required. She said that medical reports, social work reports and statements by witnesses and the women themselves ought also to be considered relevant.

In the Commons, the Prime Minister denied that the Bill would consign asylum-seekers to poverty by replacing cash benefits with vouchers. "It is important that we clean up the system of asylum-seeking. Many bogus claims are being made. We have inherited a complete mess."