Enniola was utterly desperate by the time she called Safety4Sisters, a charity that supports migrant women experiencing domestic abuse who have no access to public funds.
She had endured emotional and physical abuse during her four-year marriage but her insecure immigration status meant she felt trapped. She was dependant on her husband’s immigration status, and he told her she would be deported if she contacted the police, so she was too frightened to get help.
Eventually, in sheer desperation she told a GP and was referred to a local domestic abuse service who tried to find her somewhere safe to stay. But despite there being refuge spaces available, none were able to accept her because her insecure immigration status meant she had no recourse to public funds.
She spent one night sleeping on the street before finding on the internet a contact number for Safety4Sisters refuge, Abonsh House, which was set up in August 2020, solely for women like Enniola – the most vulnerable migrant women who aren’t entitled to support from the state and find themselves with no safety net.
When Enniola contacted Abonsh House it was full, but they swung into action – the refuge worker got her a taxi to the refuge to ensure she was safely off the street, then found her a room in a bed and breakfast. While she stayed there the advocacy worker looked for refuge space and tried offering Safety 4 Sisters funds to pay for her place in a refuge.
However, five days later there was still no refuge who would take her so one of the five women in Abonsh House agreed to share her room with her and she moved in.
Safety4Sisters staff worked hard to make sure Enniola’s insecure immigration status was resolved and two months later it has been. Enniola is now able to claim benefits and has accessed the specialist Safety4Sisters specialist counsellor and in her words is “finding herself again”.
Enniola was believed, respected and been given space to talk through the support of the specialist and experienced refuge support worker, who herself has experienced her own migrant journey from Syria and is fluent in Arabic.
When Abonsh House was set up last year it was one of the first refuges specifically for women with no recourse to public funds who would otherwise have been left homeless, destitute, forced to return to their abusers or who would have been threatened with deportation.
Safety4Sisters set up Abonsh House because there was such a huge gap in safe accommodation and safety services for women with no recourse to public funds (NRPF). They don’t receive any funds from Government and piece together money from 10 different funders.
“The women who come to us are often very frightened. They have often been in violent situations for longer than other domestic abuse victims. Many have tried to take their own lives; many have ended up sleeping rough before they come to us.
“Very often they are turned away by other services, so some assume that maybe the violence they are enduring is not enough for them to get help and so they feel disbelieved.
“I think when it comes to migrant survivors that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. I think there are many other victims who are too frightened to come forward or don’t know where to turn for help,” Vicky Marsh co -director S4S.
When survivors arrive at Abonsh House, Safety4Sisters try to resolve their immigration issues working in partnership with Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit. Safety4Sisters also provide the women with intense counselling and group work sessions.
At the moment Abonsh House is home to women from Eastern Europe, Pakistan, Burundi and Nigeria. Vicky said the residents have created a supportive and safe atmosphere in the refuge and they are empowered by one another’s courage and resilience.
“Some of the women we support will never have been allowed to make a decision for themselves and suddenly they are able to make choices for themselves about their life for the first time,” Vicky said.
Halla Akhdar, the S4S Refuge support worker, said: “They come to us with a lot of tears, with no hope, no family, no future, and they leave us with a lot of hope, laughs, with new life and future. They leave us empowered, confident, independent, strong, and the most important thing they leave us fully aware about their rights as migrant women in this country.”
Unfortunately, Enniola’s situation is all too familiar which is why championing the needs of this marginalised group of survivors is a key policy priority for the Domestic Abuse Commissioner. Our recent report Safety Before Status shows there is much more to be done to keep migrant survivors safe.
Many of the issues raised in our report have been known for a long time but key improvements for migrant survivors were not included in the Domestic Abuse Act; a missed opportunity.
We are calling for funds to be provided so all migrant survivors can access safe accommodation as well as the creation of a firewall between police and immigration enforcement, so victims feel safe to report abuse without fear of immigration control.
We would also like to see a greater awareness among policy makers and frontline professionals of immigration abuse – whereby perpetrators use victims’ insecure immigration status as a tool of coercive control. Our report calls for a definition of immigration abuse to be included in national guidance on domestic abuse, and for Home Office to commission a No Recourse to Public Funds and immigration abuse toolkit specific to VAWG.
Safety4Sisters and Abonsh House is providing fantastic support to migrant survivors with no recourse to public funds but we want to see safety being put before status for all victims.
Domestic abuse survivors like Enniola deserve no less.
This is what some of the other residents as Abonsh House said:
“Safety4Sister mean to me Peace, Freedom, Hope. I lost hope and I was desperate but S4S gave me back the reason to live, at the refuge became as home to me and S4S and women in the refuge as family.”
“The refuge gave me emotional support, financial support, safety and legal help.”
“All the support was excellent, Safety4sisters opened doors for me to rebuild my life.”
“This is my new family now. They are more of a family than my real family ever were.”
“The (support) fund has changed my life, Safety4sisters are very supportive. Before I was crying a lot and in a critical condition now I have a safe place to live, food and I am safe and I can see light at the end of the tunnel.”
“I feel human again, I am getting back to how I used to be when I laughed.”