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 50 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.   

In 2018, Freedom of Information Requests showed that 60% of the police force reports a victim’s immigration status to the Home Office. In 2022,  new Freedom of Information Requests indicated that in the two years since May 2020, 2,656 crime victims were referred to the Home Office after reporting a crime to the police.

In December 2020, the findings of the first super-complaint investigation, led by three independent police watchdogs, were published. It concluded that data-sharing arrangements significantly harm not only victims of crime but also the public interest, as crimes are not reported and therefore remain unpunished. The report also confirmed that in domestic abuse cases, data-sharing with Immigration Enforcement does not constitute safeguarding.

Prioritising immigration enforcement over human rights prevents migrant women from reporting crimes, including domestic abuse and modern slavery, 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 exert abuse with impunity.

Reporting migrant victims of crime to the Home Office is usually justified in the name of safeguarding and tough immigration control, but this  ‘hostile environment’ policy puts fundamental 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 gender-based violence and modern slavery and send clear messages by deterring perpetrators and exploiters who weaponise their victims’ insecure immigration status. They 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 immigration status victims of crime, as their details are often shared for immigration control purposes.

#StepUpMigrantWomen aims to:

  1. Secure safe reporting mechanisms and work to separate crime reporting and access to vital support services from immigration control.
  2. Bring together diverse voices from Black and minoritised 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 the 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, often marked by discrimination linked to race, language, immigration status, income, sexuality, disability, and others.

Supporting Organisations

  1. Agenda
  2. Al Hasaniya MWC
  3. Amnesty International
  4. The Angelou Centre
  5. Asian Women’s Resource Centre (AWRC)
  6. The Counselling Space
  7. East European Resource Centre
  8. End Violence Against Women (EVAW)
  9. Family Emotional Wellbeing Project (FEWP)
  10. Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX)
  11. GALOP
  12. Hackney Migrant Centre
  13. Helen Bamber Foundation
  14. Hillingdon Women’s Centre
  15. IMECE Women’s Centre
  16. Imkaan
  17. Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO)
  18. Indoamerican Refugee Migrant Organisation (IRMO)
  19. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI)
  20. Kiran Support Services
  21. Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation (KMEWO)
  22. Latin American Women’s Aid (LAWA)
  23. Latin American Women’s Rights Services (LAWRS) 
  24. Latin Elephant
  25. Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network
  26. Liberty
  27. London Black Women’s Project (LBWP)
  28. Maternity Action
  29. Middle Eastern Women and Society Organisation (MEWSO)
  30. Migrant Action
  31. Migrants Organise
  32. Migrants’ Rights Network (MRN)
  33. Nia
  34. PICUM
  35. Praxis 
  36. Project 17
  37. Opoka
  38. Race on the Agenda (ROTA)
  39. Rape Crisis
  40. Refugee Women Connect
  41. Refugee Women’s Centre
  42. Rights of Women
  43. Runnymede Trust
  44. Safelives
  45. Safety4Sisters NorthWest
  46. Sisters for Change
  47. Solace Women’s Aid
  48. Southall Black Sisters
  49. Standing Together Against Domestic Violence
  50. Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA)
  51. The Unity Project (TUP) 
  52. WAVE Network
  53. Welsh Women’s Aid
  54. Women’s Aid
  55. Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST Manchester)
  56. Women’s Budget Group
  57. Women for Refugee Women
  58. Women’s Resource Centre (WRC)