Putting women's safety before immigration status

Equality - 25 Nov 2020

On the International day of elimination of violence against women and girls, Elizabeth Jimenez from the Latin American Women's Rights Service writes about the additional and horrific barriers facing migrant women who experience domestic abuse

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Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is a human rights violation affecting more than 2 million people per year in the United Kingdom, primarily women.

It is widely evidenced that Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) disproportionately affects migrant women as they face multiple, complex and overlapping barriers to protection and justice.

Migrant women are prone to experiencing violence from multiple perpetrators, facing language barriers or being economically dependent on the abuser.

As part of the abuse, they are continuously misinformed by perpetrators about their rights and legal status.

In the UK, many migrant women are subjected to the 'No Recourse to Public Funds' policy, which prevents them from accessing public funds.

Consequently, they are barred from accessing life-saving service provisions such as refuge accommodation or welfare benefits.

As a result of a lack of a safety net, migrant women are left with the impossible choice of remaining trapped in abusive relationships or face a real risk of destitution and homelessness.

This situation has been exacerbated and aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic and social distancing measures, as lockdowns have created a fertile ground for perpetrators to further isolate and increase the abuse of migrant women.

Amongst the vulnerabilities faced, migrant victims experience a distinctive form of abuse: the use of their insecure immigration status to coerce and control them.

We campaign and advocate for protection for all women subjected to abuse, irrespective of their immigration status.

According to our report “The Right to be Believed”, more than 60% of migrant women have received threats of deportation by abusers if reporting the violence to the police.

In consequence, fear of detention or deportation prevents migrant women from coming forward while perpetrators are enabled to exert abuse with impunity.

This situation is worsened the hostile environment, and the punitive UK immigration system in which abused women with insecure immigration status are seen and treated as possible immigration offenders rather than as victims/survivors of violence.

In 2017, responding to the need for policy and legislative change to ensure all women are protected from abuse regardless of their immigration status, LAWRS created the Step Up Migrant Women campaign.

The campaign aims to ensure all victims/survivors, irrespective of their immigration status, can report abuse without the risk of facing negative consequences such as detention, deportation, destitution or separation from their children.

We are currently campaigning to amend the Domestic Abuse Bill as in its current form it fails to guarantee provisions of protection for the most vulnerable group of women, women with insecure immigration status.

Today, in the context of this International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, from the Latin American Women’s Rights Service, we are working on raising awareness of the vulnerabilities to which migrant women are exposed because of their immigration status.

We campaign and advocate for protection for all women subjected to abuse, irrespective of their immigration status.

We invite you to join us in speaking up against the discrimination migrant women are exposed to, and to support our work. Follow our Twitter account and the Step Up Migrant Women website for updates.


Elizabeth Jimenez
The Latin American Women's Rights Service

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