On 21 January 2019, a new Domestic Abuse Bill was published, proposing an improved system to further assist victims. It includes the first ever statutory definition of domestic violence, which includes physical, financial, emotional, and mental abuse. Alongside this will be a new ban, which prohibits putting victims on the stand during cross-examinations in the presence of their abusers. A new Domestic Abuse Commissioner alongside further Protection Notices and Protection Orders will also be included to offer better protection for survivors.
According to figures released by ActionAid, five women are killed every hour by a partner or family member globally, while in the UK, two women are killed every week by a current or former partner in England and Wales.
The new bill aims to target these growing figures by implementing improved laws to tackle domestic violence cases. Despite this, Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) refugee and migrant victims may not be offered the same laws of protection. The charity Safe Lives revealed that BAME victims remained silent on domestic violence almost 1.5 times longer than White British women when they were being abused.
Refugee and migrant victims are similarly vulnerable, yet are more likely to suffer abuse for longer since they have little access to government resources such as public funding and social housing. They are unable to escape their abusers, as this could jeopardise their immigration status.
According to the terms of their Spouse Visa UK, British partners must provide accommodation and financial support for their migrant spouses. However, in a domestic abuse inquiry it was discovered that 27 of the UK's 45 police forces routinely hand over victims and witnesses of crime to the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes.
In one such case, police arrested a woman who reported being kidnapped and raped, after it was discovered that she had entered the UK illegally.
Fizza Qureshi, director of the Migrants' Rights Network, told The Independent that the woman was one of many victims and witnesses of crime being targeted by immigration enforcement after going to authorities for help.
"[The arrested woman] presented herself as a victim, but even though she was taken to the Havens she was not given the care and support she needed," she said.
"It was probably incredibly traumatic to be arrested for something she voluntarily declared.
"It's possible that she didn't have any other options [and] may have been forced to come to the UK."
She continued, "Victims of crime should be protected from secondary and repeat victimisation, from intimidation and from retaliation, should receive appropriate support to facilitate their recovery and should be provided with sufficient access to justice,"
Amnesty International UK has revealed that in such cases, the government believes the victims "may best be served by returning to their country of origin". This creates another conundrum since asylum seekers are unable to return to their countries of origins due to persecution or life-threatening situations.
In particular, coming from backgrounds that are strongly religious could lead to segregation and abuse from the close-knit community. As many migrants speak little English, they can find the legal process daunting which can affect their decision in speaking out. Exacerbating matters, Legal Aid budgets have been axed considerably, making it even harder for migrant victims of abuse to seek the support they need.
The biggest challenge with the Spouse Visa is that it stipulates that the person needs to live with their UK sponsor for 30 months. This means that the individual is entirely dependent on his or her sponsor, who also happens to be the abuser.
Following Brexit, EU citizens who are affected by domestic violence may find themselves in a similar position of reduced production if they are unable to provide proof of a "settled status".
There are, however, still some further options. Firstly, some migrants may qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain via the domestic violence channel, which would enable a victim to live separately from their abusive partner without breaching their Spouse Visa conditions. They will then be free to make an application for public funds, which will give them access to a Destitute Domestic Violence Concession (DDV) for three months. During this period, the Home Office will review their case and visa. This process can be a long and complicated process. However, victims of domestic abuse do qualify for legal aid and can therefore access legal advice and assistance to help with their application or claim.
Although the Domestic Abuse Bill does make some important moves towards helping domestic abuse victims, it does not go far enough in its consideration of migrant victims, particularly migrant women. The Bill needs to be reviewed and considered from this perspective, to avoid vulnerable women being further victimised by our immigration system.
J.S. von Dacre is a content writer for the Immigration Advice Service, a team of immigration lawyers who offer legal advice and assistance to migrant victims of domestic abuse.