The Home Office is being urged to to better protect domestic abuse victims after warnings that women are being “trapped” in violent relationships as a result of its hostile environment policies.
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, is today calling on the home secretary, Sajid Javid, to urgently act to protect victims of crime with insecure immigration status. Research by his office has found vulnerable women in the capital are being denied access to support and flagged to the Home Office after reporting domestic abuse.
One woman came to the UK with her young child on a spousal visa and quickly began experiencing domestic violence, with her partner telling her that if she phoned the police she would be arrested and deported because she was an illegal immigrant.
It comes at a time when Theresa May’s hostile environment policy is under intense scrutiny following the Windrush scandal, which saw people targeted by immigration officials despite having arrived in the UK as children.
The hostile measures have also been blamed for the unfair targeting of vulnerable groups such as trafficking victims and homeless people.
MPs and leading charities have backed the demands, saying the hostile environment has led to an “extremely dangerous” situation whereby perpetrators are able to use the measures to abuse their partners.
Claire Waxman, London’s first victims’ commissioner, said she had encountered a number of migrant women who were choosing not to report domestic violence due to a fear of deportation and were subsequently ”trapped” in violent and oppressive relationships.
“I have met far too many victims trapped in violent and oppressive relationships who feel they have no way out because they can’t safely access support due to fears of being detained or deported,” she told The Independent.
“Both the mayor and I are clear that all victims of abuse must have full confidence to report crime and their abusers to ensure justice is done, no matter what their status might be.”
Labour MP Jess Phillips said she fully backed the mayor’s demands, saying a number of her constituents had been detained in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre after reporting violence and threats against them by violent partners.
“Our police forces and immigration services should not collude with perpetrators of violence, and no victim should ever worry that if they report crimes against them and their children that they risk deportation or detention,” she said.
One victim, who gave her name as Andrea, is still experiencing domestic violence from her EU partner despite reporting it to the police. Her spousal visa was revoked in April after he phoned the Home Office to tell them they were no longer together as a means of manipulation.
The Ecuadoran national, who has a 12-year-old daughter, said: “We’ve been left vulnerable. The non-molestation order lasted 10 months, and now we are living with him again. I’ve had panic attacks. My daughter can’t sleep. We feel unsafe.
“The social worker told me I had no rights because I’m not European. He has all the power. I’ve suffered and I am still suffering, and so is my child. She is traumatised. We just want to start again.”
The mayor’s office has put forward a series of measures it said the government should implement immediately so that no victim fears having to come forward and to ensure they know they will have proper access to support and justice.
This includes the reinstatement of legal aid for immigration cases, the availability of financial support and safe accommodation irrespective of their immigrations status. Mr Khan has also recommended operational guidelines for police on how to respond to victims with insecure immigration status.
Lucilia Granada, director of the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS), which supports Andrea, said: “We constantly see cases where the abusers use the women’s insecure immigration status to control their victims.
“The hostile environment policies have led to this extremely dangerous situation where many victims of severe crimes are too afraid to go to the police. Their perpetrator is dangerous, but the police can be even more dangerous to them.
“Perpetrators are hiding behind these policies and using them to abuse their victims. Because of these policies, there are less avenues for migrant women to find safety and support, and this has put a great pressure on specialist services working with migrant victims of violence.”
Sian Hawkins, head of campaigns and public affairs at Women’s Aid, said the mayor’s demands were essential to ensuring that protecting survivors was put before immigration enforcement.
“This highlights how some of the most vulnerable victims face serious barriers to accessing any support when trying to report or flee domestic abuse. It is unacceptable,” she added.
“We already have provisions in place to grant domestic abuse victims indefinite leave to remain – independently of the abusive partner – in cases where a relationship broke down as a result of abuse,” said a spokesperson.
“We also offer immediate crisis assistance to victims under the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession, which provides three months’ leave outside the rules and the ability to apply for access to public funds to secure financial support and safe accommodation.”