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Safety Before Status – protecting immigrants who are victims of domestic abuse

As the UK’s leading, specialist immigration lawyers, it is important that the Optimus Law team maintains an awareness of all news and analysis when it comes to immigration matters. In addition to the mainstream consumer media, we find important nuggets of information are often found in the specialist trade media – the publications that are geared towards a specialist audience.

One such example is a report that we spotted in Police Professional, the monthly printed and online journal for UK law enforcement. It outlines how a new report says the immigration status of vulnerable domestic abuse victims is being used as a tool of “coercion and control”.

Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs said some migrant victims are being forced to stay with their abusers or face destitution because they cannot access public funds to escape. Abusers are using victims’ insecure immigration status to “coerce and threaten” that they will be deported if they go to the police, says the report.

Perpetrators are also using or destroying immigration documents to control victims, and statutory services often lack the knowledge and skills to support them, it adds.

The Safety Before Status Report draws on research by the Angelou Centre – which provides support for domestic abuse survivors – as well as a review of Home Office evidence from the University of Suffolk.

Ms Jacobs said victims whose status means they have no recourse to public funds are reluctant to report abuse because they fear police could pass information on to immigration officials.

She added these fears are being exploited by abusers threating that victims will be deported if they come forward.

In the report, Ms Jacobs says this “immigration abuse” is being used by perpetrators as a way of exerting power and control over their partners and calls for it be included in the national definition of domestic abuse.

How can these vulnerable victims be protected?

Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs is calling for a raft of changes that she believes would help keep the most vulnerable victims safe, including the following:

  • She wants £18.7 million to be made available to local authorities over a three-year period so victims can get a bed in a refuge.
  • She is also urging the Government to set aside a further £262.9 million over three years for a dedicated funding pot for specialist ‘by and for’ services, including services for black and minoritised victims. These services are far more likely to have the knowledge and understanding of the issues faced by migrant victims, are more likely to support them, and yet are far less likely to receive statutory funding.
  • Ms Jacobs also wants the Government to create an immediate ‘firewall’ between police and immigration enforcement, accompanied by safe reporting mechanisms and funded referral pathways to support. This firewall should be extended through the Victims Bill to cover all public services.

Such intervention would provide an essential extra layer of protection for abuse victims, allowing the police to concentrate further and put more resources into bringing the abusers to justice.

Ms Jacobs said: “This report represents the starting point for my work in standing up for victims and survivors of domestic abuse with insecure immigration status, and it sets out my ambition as Commissioner to ensure that support and protection is provided to all who need it.

“No victim should ever be left behind. It’s time we ensured that safety was the focus for all victims, regardless of their immigration status.”

Reaction to the report

Safe Lives, which campaigns against domestic abuse, welcomed the report, stating: “We support the Commissioner’s call to better support migrant victims and survivors of domestic abuse.

“According to research by Southall Black Sisters and Women’s Aid, migrant women are at “an increased risk of domestic violence”, and we know that perpetrators of domestic abuse often use a victim’s insecure immigration status to exert further power and control.

“Victims with insecure immigration status face serious barriers to accessing vital support. Those with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) status are forced to choose between remaining with their perpetrator, homelessness, or the risk of being treated as an immigration offender.

“All victims and survivors of domestic abuse should have access to the support and protection they need, regardless of their immigration status.”

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