Step Up Migrant Women (SUMW) is a campaign ‘by and for’ migrant Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) women led by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS). The SUMW coalition is formed of more than 40 organisations that work and advocate to support migrant women to access protection from abuse.

When migrant women with an insecure immigration status suffer from abuse and domestic violence they risk being detained and deported if they report their abuser to the police.   

This happens because there are no specific guidelines on how police officers should deal with victims who are migrants. Research from the BBC showed that 60% of the police force reports a victim’s immigration status to the Home Office.

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Prioritising immigration enforcement over human rights prevents migrant women to report domestic violence due to a fear of being treated as a criminal. The lack of safe-reporting mechanisms creates a barrier for migrant women seeking support to flee violence and exploitation, putting their lives at risk and allowing perpetrators to stay unpunished.

The obligation to report undocumented migrants is usually justified in the name of tough immigration control, but this  ‘hostile environment’ policy puts basic human rights at risk. Rights that are part of the Human Rights Act, which guarantees the same fundamental rights to everyone, regardless of their nationality, background or immigration status.

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The government should be outspoken about its zero tolerance to domestic violence and abuse, and send clear messages by deterring perpetrators who use their victims’ insecure immigration status as a tool for coercion and control. Perpetrators should not be able to hide behind ‘hostile environment’ policies and use them to exert abuse, which often involves making the victim undocumented (e.g. by taking passports away or controlling home office applications).

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How to fix this?

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) suggests the implementation of a ‘firewall’ which aims to make a clear distinction between criminal and immigration matters. Once a firewall is in place, victims with insecure immigration status can report crimes to the police without being arrested

“The implementation of the provision protects the rights of victims without any discrimination of migrant or refugee status.”

Council of Europe, Istanbul Convention Action Against Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence

The current ‘hostile environment’ policy in practice in the UK represents a threat to migrant women with insecure legal status victims of crime, as their details are often shared for immigration control purposes.

#StepUpMigrantWomen aims to:

  1. Secure safe reporting mechanisms and work towards the establishment of a firewall at the levels of policy and practice to separate reporting of crime and access to support services from immigration control.
  2. Bring together diverse voices from BAMER women and migrant organisations: to challenge the barriers faced by migrant women with insecure status as victims/survivors of violence or exploitation.
  3. We work to increase participation and empowerment of migrant women through involvement in research, consultation and advocacy and campaign activities. We highlight and recognise the intersectional experiences of migrant women and the specific barriers they face, which are often marked by discrimination linked to race, language, immigration status, income, sexuality, disability, and others.

Supporting Organisations

The Angelou Centre
Asian Women’s Resource Centre
Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation (KMEWO)
Safety4Sisters Manchester
IMECE Women’s Centre
London Black Women’s Project
Rights of Women
Latin American Women’s Aid (LAWA)
Southall Black Sisters
Kiran Support Services
Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO)
Middle Eastern Women and Society Organisation (MEWSO)
Rape Crisis
Women for Refugee Women
Women Asylum Seekers Together
Women’s Aid
Sisters for Change
Amnesty International
Standing Together against Domestic Violence
Maternity Action
Women’s Resource Centre
Migrants’ Rights Network
Welsh Women’s Aid
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants
Runnymede Trust
Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network
Race on the Agenda (ROTA)
Solace Women’s Aid
Latin Elephant
Indoamerican Refugee Migrant Organisation (IRMO)
Migrants Organise
WAVE Network
Family Emotional Wellbeing Project (FEWP)
The Counselling Space
Project 17
End Violence Against Women
Hillingdon Women’s Centre
Migrant Action
Surviving Economic Abuse
Refugee Women’s Centre
Hackney Migrant Centre
Women’s Budget Group