The Domestic Abuse Commissioner has urged authorities not to allow migrant domestic abuse survivors to “fall through the cracks”, calling for an “urgent overhaul” of the current framework.
Following the publication of a new report on how Britain deals with victims of domestic abuse with an insecure immigration status who cannot access public funds, Commissioner Nicole Jacobs said migrant survivors “are left desperate and often destitute with nowhere to turn”.
The report, “Safety Before Status: The Solutions”, lays out evidence-based estimates of the number of migrant survivors with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) in the UK in need of support as well as the cost of providing support and the benefits of doing so.
The research shows there are approximately 32,000 survivors with NRPF who could report the abuse to an authority each year if provided an ability to gain recourse to public funds although in the first year it’s not likely to be more than 7,000.
It is also said that victims feel forced to stay with their abusers because they fear being arrested or deported if they contact the police. Other findings with regards to the current situation include:
- Abusers use a victims’ fear about their immigration status to control them, by destroying travel documents and threatening to report them – a set of coercive behaviours Ms Jacobs has labelled “immigration abuse”
- Survivors’ lack of financial resources are used against them in family courts, with perpetrators using that to demand custody of children
- Police, NHS doctors and local childcare services and housing are forced to pick up the pieces when the situation accelerates to an emergency and victims come in with injures and complaints – this costs an estimated overall £16.2 million a year
The report lays out two clear options to improve support for migrant survivors. The research shows that if the government adopted the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s preferred option over 10 years supporting migrant survivors could generate overall social gains worth almost £2.3 billion.
The Commissioner’s recommended option would offer flexible support for all migrant victims regardless of their status, to access protection and support through a model which is flexible and tailored to the length of support for which they require it.
This would build on existing policies including the Domestic Violence Indefinite Leave to Remain and the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession.
The report also proposes broad principles to guide how authorities should form their policies, among them:
- Government must introduce a firewall between immigration enforcement and public services to ensure they can safely report their experiences of domestic abuse
- The Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s definition of “immigration abuse” must be added to policy and guidance on domestic abuse
- The Domestic Abuse Commissioner calls for £18.7m funding injection over three years to be given to local authorities to ensure those with no recourse to public funds can get safe refuge
- Nicole Jacobs also calls for a dedicated funding pot over three years for specialist “by and for” services that provide the most tailored support for marginalised survivors
Ruth Davison, CEO of Refuge, welcomed the report, suggesting that women’s lives depend on its findings and recommendations:
“[NRPF leaves] survivors at risk of homelessness and destitution and lock migrant survivors out of accessing the support they need. The report also spells out the economic benefits to the UK economy which could be unlocked if the government acts now.
Specialist support must be available to all survivors of abuse, and insecure immigration should never be a barrier to accessing it. The government had a real opportunity to ensure the safety and protection of migrant survivors via the Domestic Abuse Act, but did not do so. This puts women at risk and creates further hurdles for survivors, as well as excluding some women from accessing support, protection and safety.”