Lord Bassam at the House of Lords debate: “Disappointing that migrant victims are not in the face of the [Domestic Abuse] Bill”

On June 6th, a debate took place at the House of Lords regarding the Government’s plans to support victims of domestic violence and abuse. The debate had a great focus on how the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill (DVA Bill) is not fully inclusive to migrant women victims of domestic violence. In its current version, the bill fails to protect migrant women’s rights which are ensured by international commitments.

This follows the briefing from LAWRS, Sisters for Change, Liberty, Amnesty, EVAW and Imkaan, which was elaborated on the need of protection and safety for migrant women.

The Step Up Migrant Women Coalition has welcomed the remarks made by Lord Bassam and Baroness Hamwee. Lord Bassam pointed out that the DVA bill was not complying with the Istanbul Convention:

The bill, as it is, probably leaves behind some of society’s most marginalised an isolated survivors of domestic abuse, particularly migrant women. As a result, I take the view that it fails to meet fully the requirements of the Istanbul Convention, despite the government’s well intention moves to ratified that convention through the introduction of the bill”

He also pointed out havng the DVA Bill not giving equal protection to all womenregardless their immigration status might result in viololating the government’s human rights obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights and the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women:

“It is extremely disappointing, in that context, that migrant women are not mentioned anywhere on the face of the legislation. If this bill does not promote equality and ensure protection for all survivors of abuse, it will fail to incorporate the Istanbul Convention and risks violating our own existing human rights obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights and the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.”

Lord Bassam based his comments on the responses submitted for the DVA consultations. He also stressed out that the bill should clearly state that migrant women with insecure status should also be protected:

“Given the world of evidence submitted to the government consultation on the bill, I think that it is important that we need to have clear language in the legislation that protection must be afforded to survivors regardless of their immigration status.”

He enumerated in his speech some of the issues that migrant women with insecure status face:

  1. Barriers to access safety 

Women with insecure immigration status find impossible to access refuge and other welfare support in order to escape violence and abuse. Without access to public funds and housing support, they are routinely denied refuge spaces, safe accommodation and welfare. And, therefore, face impossible decisions of becoming destitute or homeless or returning to the perpetrator. Many often find that they are unable to regularise or confirm their immigration status for a host of very complex reasons.”

2. Immigration enforcement over access to justice

I think, is that immigration enforcement is being prioritise over the needs of provide safety and security to survivors of domestic abuse. Perhaps as a hangover of continuation of the government’s hostile environment agenda. Invasive data sharing agreements between public services and immigration enforcement prevent survivors with insecure immigration status from accessing the very services that they need.”

3. Immigration status use as a tool to silence victims, and other barriers to access protection

The bill does not meaningful acknowledge or address the significant additional barriers faced by migrant women in accessing protection. Including that abuse is commonly use women’s fears of immigration enforcement and separation from their children to control them. Research has pointed to particular vulnerabilities for migrant women, this includes high proportionate homelessness, greater financial impacts of abuse for their own inability to work on account of their immigration status, being disproportionate affected by lack of support when facing forms of abuse, such as FGM, forced marriage and so-called honour-based violence, and they more likely to report multiple perpetrators.”

4. The justice gap 

(…) we need to acknowledge there is a likely justice gap with the police not pursuing criminal charges.

He finished his session with specific suggestions on how the DVA bill could protect migrant women: 

So, my Lords, I think the bill needs to include a non-discrimination clause. I think it has to provide for safe reporting systems for survivors accessing public services and it needs to consider extending eligibility for the existing domestic violence rule and destitution domestic violence concession to all migrant women experiencing or at risk of abuse. And, my Lords, I think urgent consideration needs to be given to ensuring that those who report domestic violence and abuse should be exempt of having No Recourse to Public Funds and should be supported.”

Baroness Hamwee endorsed the remarks raised by Lord Bassam and added:

How much more difficult must it be if you are a migrant with insecure status or if you believe that your status is insecure, which might be part of the issue.”

She also stressed out the difficulties that migrant women face when seeking safety and support:

The destitute domestic violence concession has been mentioned too, is restricted to immigrants on a spouse visa and it is too short. It doesn’t apply to asylum seekers and there is no means through the asylum system to access specialist women services. No Recourse to Public Funds means no refuge place.”

On an ending note, she shared her deep concerns on how data-sharing have affected migrant women victims of VAWG:

“It seems some police forces share details of victims with the Home Office for the purposes of immigration control. I think that is shocking. An expecting woman to return “home”, I put home in quotes, what a failure to appreciate the cultural dimension and nowhere near victim-centered.”

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