A group of feminists have put together the below policy statement detailing what the government and local authorities must do to support migrant women and girls fleeing violence during the pandemic.
We are building on an earlier open letter of March 2020 on this issue, organised by the Step Up Migrant Women Colaition, as we wish to continue highlighting this issue. We wish to disseminate the policy statement and open letter to government officials, the public and the media. We are aware that, given the fast moving nature of events, time is of the essence.
Who we are:
Sandhya Sharma is Group Coordinator at Safety4Sisters, a Manchester based feminist and anti-racist organisation focused on working with women with no recourse to public funds who are fleeing gender based violence.
Chitra Nagarajan is a researcher, programmer and writer focusing on the human rights of women and girls and conflict mitigation.
Lola Okolosie is am a teacher and writer for The Guardian who has focused on violence against women and girls.
Carys Afoko is the former Executive Director and co-founder of Level Up, a feminist campaigning organisation and on the board of the End Violence Against Women coalition.
Maya Goodfellow is a writer and academic, and the author of Hostile Environment: How Immigrants Became Scapegoats.
Shaista Aziz is a journalist and Labour councillor for Rose Hill and Iffley, Oxford City Council and a former international aid worker with extensive global experience of working with women and girls impacted by abuse and violence.
Marai Larasi is the former Executive Director of Imkaan and former co-chair of the EVAW board of trustees.
We have been locked up by abusers and family, we have been locked up by the Home Office and now we are locked up again – how much can we bear?’ – asylum seeking woman, Manchester
COVID19 is not only a public health crisis but a human rights one. We are told to “stay home” to keep safe. Yet, violence against women and girls (VAWG) is on the rise. Women and girls are reporting increased sexual and racialised harassment in public spaces and online. They are trapped with abusers in conditions ripe for increased sexual, domestic and honour-based violence. VAWG reports may well increase further after restrictions are lifted as women and girls, who see few options during lockdown, are more able to access help.
For migrant minoritised women, many who have insecure immigration status, language barriers and/or disabilities, escaping violence is even more difficult. This paper takes the approach that highlighting the needs and barriers of the most vulnerable includes others and so focuses on this group, one of those most subjected to harm. It calls for universal protection against and response to violence against women and girls (VAWG) regardless of immigration status.
Women fear reporting will lead to immigration detention
Many migrant women fear reporting violence may negatively impact their immigration cases, resulting in detention and/or deportation. This is a threat abusers instil as a significant form of coercive control and meets their experiences of years of the hostile environment. Government response to the pandemic, including police and immigration powers to detain people believed to be infectious, potential use of the military to add to police capacity, and the rise in surveillance further add to this fear. As a result, women justifiably fear accessing support and are prevented from escaping the increased violence they face during the pandemic.
No recourse to public funds keeps women experiencing violence
Migrant women are told by abusers and the state alike that their insecure immigration status means they have no recourse to public funds (NPRF) i.e. cannot access state welfare and housing support. Local authorities and central government view such women through the prism of immigration rather than as victims and survivors of violence. Consequently, women face a stark choice: to live with violence and its consequences or to seek help and risk destitution and possible deportation. Without a clear message from central and local governments, women will fear coming forward.
While concerns about domestic abuse levels have been raised within the government, including by the Home Secretary, we have yet to see explicit commitment to ensuring all victims/survivors are able to access support needed. It is critical that women and girls who are subjected to immigration control have access to safety and support, including the newly established emergency accommodation released under COVID-19 measures.
A week into the lockdown, Safety4Sisters in Manchester supported a woman with a 3-year-old child to leave her abusive husband – after social services told her to stay but ‘remain vigilant’. The police, whilst temporarily removing her husband from the property, failed to move her to a place of safety as they interpreted lockdown guidelines as meaning she could not move out. Her husband was subsequently free to return. As violence against women increases under lockdown conditions and with an already at least 16 killings of women by men in three weeks, such responses risk women and children’s lives.
COVID-19 pushes migrant women further into poverty and destitution
Many migrant women are asylum seekers living on £37.25 per week or are destitute without any money at all. This means they cannot buy in bulk or buy the more expensive brands which are often the products left on shelves. Women report skipping meals as they have run out of food or say they are observing religious fasting more rigorously to manage lack of food.
Abuse frays social networks and exacerbates mental health issues
Many migrant women, subjected to multiple discrimination and violence, had poor mental health even before the pandemic. Restrictions have led to more acute isolation, lack of contact with support agencies, and increased ability of abusers to prohibit contact with family members, friends and colleagues. Women report feeling helpless to maintain control over their lives. Lockdown conditions are heightening previous experiences of trauma with some women scared to go out as they fear racism and being blamed for COVID-19.
Services working with migrant women escaping violence struggling to survive
Small minoritised and migrant women’s organisations have been severely under-resourced for years. Funding is short-term and piecemeal, making survival let alone sustainability fragile. The recent government announcement of funding is welcome but woefully inadequate, particularly as such funding has tended to go to bigger organisations. Recent weeks have seen huge increases in workloads as services deal with women in increasingly distressed states whose cases are complicated by multiple refuges denying access. There is a pressing need to resource smaller specialist organisations and ensure funding is spread across the regions.
Demands for action
Urgent action needs to be taken by the government, nationally and locally, to ensure all women – regardless of immigration status – are protected in this time of unprecedented crisis. Moreover, the Domestic Abuse Bill and local VAWG strategies should include these measures.
|1||Put in place a firewall so women coming forward to the police and any other public service do not have data shared with the Home Office and clearly communicate this to migrant women to assure them they are safe to report violence||Home OfficeMinistry of JusticeMinistry of Housing, Communities and Local GovernmentDepartment of Health and Social Care Local Authorities|
|2||Abolish no recourse to public funds for all women escaping violence||Home Office|
|3||Work with specialist EVAWG services to house all migrant women escaping violence||Home OfficeMinistry of Housing, Communities and Local GovernmentLocal Authorities|
|4||Suspend all healthcare charges, not just ones related to COVID19||Home Office Department of Health and Social Care|
|5||Launch a communications campaign that is accessible and produced in different languages to ensure all women experiencing violence know what help is available||Home Office Local Authorities|
|6||Increase the allowance paid to asylum seekers to £57.75 (an extra £20) in light of increasing costs and in line with increases in universal credit||Home Office|
|7||Include measures to prevent and respond to VAWG in development of all national and local COVID19 strategies, including when it comes to easing of restrictions||Prime MinisterCouncil LeadersMayors|
|8||Adequate fund VAWG services, including black and minority ethnic and migrant women’s organisations, to ensure all women can access lifesaving services||Home OfficeMinistry of Housing, Communities and Local Government|
- Sandhya Sharma, Safety4Sisters
- Pragna Patel, Southall Black Sisters
- Satbir Singh, JCWI
- Priya Chopra, Saheli
- Women Asylum Seekers Together (Manchester)
- Gisela Valle, Director, Latin American Women’s Rights Service
- Elizabeth Jiménez-Yáñez, Coordinator, Step Up Migrant Women
- Baljit Banga, Executive Director, Imkaan
- Zubaida Haque, Interim Director, Runnymede Trust – agreed to sign the letter
- Nazek Ramadan, Director, Migrant Voice – agreed to sign the letter
- Ellen Waters, Director, Doctors of the World UK – agreed to sign the letter
- Rosario Guimba-Stewart, Chief Executive Officer, Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network
- Natasha Walter and Priscilla Dudhia, Women for Refugee Women
- Dr Sara Reis, Head of Research and Policy, UK Women’s Budget Group
- Rosie Lewis, Deputy Director and VAWG Services Manager, The Angelou Centre
- Daf Viney, Director of Services, Hackney Migrant Centre
- Suna Parlak, Harmful Practices and Domestic Abuse Officer and Educator, Asian Women’s Resource Centre (AWRC)
- Caz Hattam, Project Co-ordinator, Unity Project
- Gabriela Quevedo, Director for Advocacy and Influencing, Latin American Women’s Aid
- Abi Brunswick, Director, Project 17
- Frances Timberlake, Communications Coordinator, Refugee Women’s Centre
- Sally Daghlian OBE, CEO, Praxis
- Susan Cueva, Kanlungan Filipino Consortium
- BLM UK
- Rose Ssali, Chair of Mama Health and Poverty Partnership (MHaPP)
- Nadia Siddiqui, Director, Women’s Voices CIC
- Gail Heath, CEO, The Pankhurst Trust (Incorporating Manchester Women’s Aid)
- Dr Kay Lalor, Senior Lecturer in Law, Manchester Law School
- Becky Clarke, ‘Sites of Resistance’ Manchester Metropolitan University
- Atiha Chaudry, Chair Greater Manchester BAME Network
- Denise McDowell, Chief Executive, Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit
- Dr Peggy Mulongo, Head of Health and Wellbeing Programme – NESTAC
- Zita Holbourne, Co-founder and National Chair, BARAC UK
- Huda Jawad, EVAW
- Jacqui Gitau, WOW Space, Oxford.
- Cllr Dr Kindy Sandhu, Coventry City Council
- Cllr Amna Abdullatif, Manchester City Council
- Cllr Lucy Caldicott, Lambeth Council
- Cllr Sara Hyde, Islington Council
- Cllr Sheila Chapman, Islington Council
- Cllr Kelly Grehan, Dartford Borough Council
- Cllr Emma Ben Moussa, Dartford Borough Council
- Cllr Victoria Oguntope, Dartford Borough Council
- Cllr Alina Ben Moussa, Dartford Borough Council
- Cllr Liz Brighouse, Oxfordshire County Council
- Cllr Shamshia Ali, Redbridge Council
- Cllr Deborah Mcilveen, Oxfordshire County Council
- Cllr Sobia Afridi, Oxfordshire County Council
- Cllr Linda Smith, Oxford City Council
- Cllr Susanna Pressel, Oxford City Council
- Cllr Jamila Azad, Oxford City Council
- Cllr Lubna Arshad, Oxford City Council
- Cllr Dr Hosnieh Djafari Marbini, Oxford City Council
- Cllr Marie Tidball, Oxford, City Council
- Cllr Nadine Bely- Summers, Oxford City Council
- Cllr Sian Taylor, Oxford City Council
- Cllr Louise Upton, Oxford City Council
- Cllr Mary Clarkson, Oxford City Council
- Cllr Christine Simm, Oxford City Council
- Cllr Nigel Chapman, Oxford City Council
- Cllr Tom Hayes, Deputy-Leader, Oxford City Council
- Dionne Nelson, Deputy Director, Women’s Resource Centre
- Lisa-Marie, CEO, FiLiA
- Liz Jones, Lead for Domestic Abuse, Oxford City Council
- Caroline Pinder, Chair, Board of Trustees, Oxford Against Cutting
- Ubuntu Women Shelter, Glasgow
- Jo Evans, Head of Operations, A2Dominion
- Liz Horn, Chair of Trustees, Sunrise Multicultural Project
- Mindy Meleyal, LGBT Foundation, Manchester
- Gemma Nash, BreakthroughUK
- Katherine Bendall, Trustee, Trafford Rape Crisis Centre
- Jill Caldwell, CEO, Endeavour Domestic Abuse Services
If you are interested in signing this letter, please contact:
Elizabeth Jiménez-Yáñez: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lola Okolosie: email@example.com