New reforms to the Domestic Abuse Bill fall short to protect migrant victims | Pia Subramaniam

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Written by Pia Subramaniam, a content writer and correspondent for the UK’s Immigration Advice Service; an organisation of leading UK immigration solicitors.

Following the protest by the members of the Step Up Migrant Women (SUMW), a coalition of more than 30 organisations, the Joint Committee of MPs and Lords examined the Domestic Abuse Bill and released their new findings on June 14.

These echoed the cracks, pointed out by the SUMW, in the draft Bill, where migrant women reporting domestic abuse were excluded from the protection and support for abuse victims by the Government. This June, MPs and Lords are calling on the Government to reform the Bill.

Domestic abuse is a wide-spread issue in the UK, with five women killed by their abusers every hour, while one women dies within the walls of her home every three days in the UK alone. There has also been a drastic amount of increase in sexual harassment, forced marriage and human trafficking as of late.

On January 21, 2019, the UK Government released its draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which gave campaigners and human rights activist new hope for better protection for our women, girls – and men – who are enduring domestic abuse. The Bill also included a landmark statutory definition that recognises non-physical, emotional, and financial abuse, as well as a new Domestic Abuse Commissioner, extended protection orders, victim-centred considerations, and finally, the prohibition of cross-examinations of victims by their abusers in family courts.

However, the SUMW emphasised that refugees, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) and migrant women were crucially elbowed out of the Government’s protection, despite their increasing need for extra support. Migrant women and women of colour mostly suffer under domestic abuse and face additional barriers, as a result. They are blocked from public resources, such as benefits and social housing, due to visa restrictions and their insecure immigration status is used against them by both their abuser and the authorities.

In a 2015-2016 statement, 27 out of 45 victims who reported their abuse were sent to immigration enforcement by local police forces, since the Home Office suggest some victims “may be best served by returning to their country of origin”. This follows the implementation of the “Hostile Environment”, making it no surprise that two in three migrant women fear reporting their abuse. Half of the respondents to a study by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service at King’s College London claimed they feared the police would side with their perpetrator.

A worrying event that is approaching in the near future are the drastic changes and reforms of the EU immigration laws after the UK’s departure from the European Union, on October 31, 2019. In the case of any Brexit scenario, new reforms may most likely lead to less support and protection for European victims. Currently, if EU nationals are unable to provide vital documents and therefore fail to achieve Settled Status before 2020, they may fall through the cracks of the system. Victims of abuse may even be confronted with harsh and stricter immigration rules, in the years to come.

The Committee considered the draft Domestic Abuse Bill a “missed opportunity” to address and fulfil the needs of migrant women and urged for a new statutory definition, which should recognise a broader range of abusive behaviour, including perpetrators using insecure immigration status as a form of coercive control. The Committee also recommended in their new findings strengthening protections of the rights of all migrant domestic abuse victims.

While the draft Bill is a positive step forward, there are still plenty of other factors that the Bill falls short of: The new suggestions by MPs and Lords do not tackle the issue that migrant women don’t have access to public funds and are therefore effectively barred from accessing refuges and other support services. Moreover, there is an increasing number in decimated refuges, due to the austerity cuts and the major lack of investment in specialist BAME services by the UK Government.

A solution for a faster achievement of the justice for migrant domestic abuse victims is to seek a Spouse Visa curtailment and protection, which the Government undermines by forcing victims  to provide mountains of evidence of the abuse, before being able to legally escape. This way, migrant victims can still obtain Leave status after a divorce, and their legal residency in the UK would not be at risk. After this vital step, they are able to apply for the Destitute Domestic Violence (DDV) Concession, in which survivors can receive financial support and housing for up to three months, allowing them to submit evidence of their financially destitute situation and the abuse they faced. Unfortunately, these solutions are unknown to many victims and therefore need to be strongly emphasised in the reformed Bill.

While the SUMW has achieved the recognition from MPs and Lords of the loopholes in the draft Bill, there are still some crucial points the Committee needs to acknowledge in their new findings. A re-examination of the legislations is desperately required in order to protect the lives of the most vulnerable who need that extra support. As we are all citizens of this world, we must continue to voice the injustice and fight for the freedom of domestic abuse victims.

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