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Migrant survivors must not be allowed to fall through the cracks says Domestic Abuse Commissioner

Date:16 JAN 2023
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Vulnerable migrant survivors of domestic abuse who can’t access public funds are “failed” by the current inadequate system, says the Domestic Abuse Commissioner as she demands a system overhaul by Government.

A report is calling for an overhaul of how Britain deals with one of its most vulnerable groups of domestic abuse victims – thousands of victims in the UK with an insecure immigration status who can’t get public funds.

Data being released by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, gives the first concrete indication of the number of people at risk of falling through the cracks, using migration data and the Crime Survey for England and Wales.

For the first time this pioneering 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 report sets out concrete proposals for the government, drawing on research by the London School of Economics, in partnership with the Oxford Migration Observatory.

“No victim or survivor of domestic abuse should ever be prevented from accessing the support and protection they need. Migrant survivors are left desperate and often destitute with nowhere to turn,” said Ms Jacobs.

“We can’t leave things as they are. These marginalised survivors are being utterly failed at a time when they most need help, support and safety,” she added.

“I hear countless horrific stories about the experiences of vulnerable migrant survivors like one woman who was forced to live on a park bench because – with no recourse to public funds – no statutory service would help her.

“The government can’t pretend this is not an issue. We urgently need to put safety before status when it comes to domestic abuse victims,” Ms Jacobs said.

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.

Migrant survivors with insecure immigration status include those on student visas, visitor’s visas, work visas or those who are undocumented. 

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The report sets out the current situation where:

  • Victims feel forced to stay with their abusers, because they fear being arrested or deported if they contact the police
  • 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

One survivor, Ani, described how she had felt forced to stay with her abuser. “I managed to end the relationship with him at some point, but with No Recourse to Public Funds, I had to stay in the same household with my abuser and his family.” Ani is a survivor supported by the charity, the Latin American Women’s Rights Services (LAWRS).

Dr Hannana Siddiqui, from Southall Black Sisters (SBS) said: “We welcome the report – it shows that economic and social value of supporting migrant victims and reinforces the findings of our evaluation of the Supporting Migrant Victims pilot scheme. The Government must ensure that all victims are fully protected and provided with a vital safety net by adopting the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s recommended option in the report”

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. (*See the link to the proposals in the Notes to Editors).

The report shows that in the Commissioner’s recommended option over 10 years the benefit to cost ratio for the first group of migrant survivors is 1 to 4. For every £1 of cost, the gains to society are valued at £4 (these gains include physical and emotional harm prevented, homelessness and destitution prevented, employment and skills including higher tax revenues, and gains to children).

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 3 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.

The full report is here.