It’s vital we protect migrant women from violence

Victims shouldn’t have to choose between returning to their abusers or having their children taken into care without them

Jess Phillips@jessphillips
Thursday 03 December 2020 23:41
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Services must be available for everyone who experiences domestic violence
Services must be available for everyone who experiences domestic violence
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During the first lockdown the issue of domestic abuse was high on the agenda of the country. For maybe the first time, we all had a universal understanding of what it would be like to be trapped in your home. 

The safety of our spaces and the peace in our places seemed a stark awakening to everyone – what about those who are not safe at home?  

This awareness will, I hope, endure. We must never again take for granted the safety a happy home can provide. We must not forget that feeling, and we must strive as a society, and certainly as policymakers, to ensure all can feel that security. No one should be in danger of violence or abuse within the four walls they call home.

But I am afraid that for some people, this is not the case. Some migrant victims of domestic abuse experience a different reality in the UK. Some who have come to the UK to study, work or be with family will be denied access to a refuge or vital support because of the “No Recourse to Public Funds” condition attached to their immigration status. These victims sometimes end up having to choose between a roof over their head with an abuser, or freedom in destitution and homelessness.

Failing to provide support for victims, is not only unacceptable in its own right, but it can also allow perpetrators to go unpunished. This can result in even further abuse occurring and more people being victimised.

I have worked on cases where women have tried to escape abusers with their children. When it was discovered they couldn’t be housed in the refuge because they had “No Recourse to Public Funds” they were given a choice by authorities. They were told that they had to choose between returning home to the abuser or having their children taken into care without them. Sophie's choice in modern Britain. I can’t even imagine what that must be like, to have to choose if you will take a beating to stay with your kids.

No one should feel they cannot escape an abuser. No one. No matter where you were born, or where you grew up, or where you plan to go tomorrow. Every victim of domestic abuse should be treated as just that; a victim of a horrendous crime that needs protection, support and a chance to rebuild your life.  

The government have been pleaded with about this – by charities, the victims commissioner, the domestic abuse commissioner, even cross-party parliamentary committees have expressed their grave concern. The government have sat in front of endless victims who have shared devastating stories about how they couldn’t escape or access a place in a refuge – all because of where they were born. I sat in a meeting with ministers whilst an American student told them of the violence she had suffered at the hands of her British partner, and begged them to hear her. 

These victims are the staff in our NHS, the carers in our care homes, the people in the labs working on our vaccines, students, mothers, daughters, neighbours, friends. But for "migrants" it’s more complicated and they are often denied the same services.

We should never make laws in our country about safety and security that offer protections from crime only if they are born in a certain place.

We can only hope during the “16 days of activism to end violence against women and girls” the government decides to protect and support anyone who suffers such crimes. 

We should be a country that will never tolerate abuse, rape or violence, no matter who it is inflected against. That is who we are.  

Jess Phillips is the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley and shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding

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