Migrant women and the Domestic Abuse Bill

Today, the House of Commons will consider the Domestic Abuse Bill the three amendments on migrant women passed with cross-party support by Peers at the House of Lords. If the Government has a real commitment to tackling domestic abuse, provisions of safety must be provided to all victims and survivors without discrimination. Together with Southall Black Sisters and the End of Violence Against Women coalition, we have been campaigning to ensure the Bill does not leave any woman behind.

LAWRS, with the support of the Step Up Migrant Women campaign, have lead an amendment for the inclusion of safe reporting mechanisms into the Bill to ensure migrant survivors can report abuse to the police and access support without the fear of any immigration enforcement.

Safe reporting amendment

In the last year, a sharp rise in domestic abuse has been reported by specialist organisations supporting victims of this heinous crime. In light of this surge, the Government has reassured victims they are not alone while urging them to seek support from the police. Nevertheless, migrant victims continue to be excluded from safety as they cannot report abuse to the police with the confidence that they will be treated as victims first and foremost. Existing data-sharing agreements between the police and other statutory services with Immigration Enforcement prevent women from coming forward, being safe, and getting redress.

Last December, findings from the first super-complaint in data sharing conducted by three independent authorities, including the HMICFRS, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and the College of Policing, shone a spotlight on the damaging effects of the practice on migrant victims of abuse. The report highlighted the deterrent effect of data-sharing on migrant victims from coming forward, the endangerment of criminal justice outcomes, and the further risk of abuse for victims while enabling perpetrators to coerce, threaten and abuse victims with impunity. Furthermore, the investigation stated that data-sharing causes significant harm to the public interest because serious crimes are not reported, investigated and prosecuted. More importantly, the independent research indicated there is no evidence that sharing data with Immigration Enforcement constitutes any safeguarding for domestic abuse victims.

The Domestic Abuse Bill presents an exceptional opportunity to include a clear statutory duty to guarantee safe reporting mechanisms by preventing migrant victims’ data from being shared with Immigration Enforcement. Last month with cross-party support, Peers at the House of Lords passed an amendment to establish safe reporting mechanisms led by Baroness Meacher. This amendment seeks to ensure that the personal details of a victim of domestic abuse are processed so that the victim can seek support and are not used for immigration control purposes.

Retaining this amendment is vital to ensure migrant women can come forward without the fear of immigration control. Trust in the police and other services will allow migrant victims to report crimes and cooperate with investigations to prosecute perpetrators. It will enable migrant victims to access safety and the remedies included in this Bill. The risk of refusing this amendment is that the Home Office and statutory services, including the police, will continue to intensify the vulnerability of migrant women. Further, as stated by Baroness Meacher at the report stage in the Lords: “The reality is that the Home Office is unwittingly supporting perpetrators in their criminal activities”. 

Failing to pass this amendment would mean that victims are twice victimised, first by perpetrators of abuse and secondly by the Government. This is because, catapulting migrant victims into the immigration enforcement system without legal advice or support, at the point at which they are simultaneously most vulnerable but have also bravely taken the first step to escaping abuse, is not only unnecessary and counterproductive but also cruel. 

Read our latest briefing here.

For further information, contact:

Elizabeth Jiménez-Yáñez: elizabeth@lawrs.org.uk

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