Much more to do to help migrant survivors

For too many migrant victims and survivors of domestic abuse, having insecure immigration status creates insurmountable barriers to safety. Championing the needs of this marginalised group of survivors is a key policy priority for the Domestic Abuse Commissioner – our new report Safety Before Status shows there is much more to be done to keep migrant survivors safe.

Safety Before Status finds that without access to public funds including housing benefit, many migrant victims are shut out of safe housing and are faced with either staying with their abuser or facing homelessness and destitution. Fears that the police and other public services will pass on their information to immigration enforcement also means that many migrant victims are afraid to report abuse and access support, leaving them with nowhere to turn for safety and allowing perpetrators to escape justice.

In turn, perpetrators will exploit survivors’ insecure immigration status as a tool of coercive control – threatening survivors with deportation and detention and controlling or destroying their immigration documents. This form of coercive control is defined in the report as ‘immigration abuse’.

Many of the issues raised in this report have been high on the policy agenda in recent years. As the Domestic Abuse Bill passed through parliament, experts providing evidence to the government were united on one issue: The Bill was a missed opportunity for migrant victims of domestic abuse. But when the Domestic Abuse Act passed in Spring 2021, key amendments to improve support to migrant victims of domestic abuse were not included.

This is why championing the needs of migrant victims of domestic abuse is a priority for the Commissioner, and why in early 2021 we commissioned two independent pieces of research to inform this work. Hinterland of Marginality by the Angelou Centre looks at the pathways to support for migrant victims and the practical barriers they face; the Critical Appraisal of the Home Office Migrant Victims Review by the University of Suffolk examines the evidence provided to the Home Office on migrant victims, enabling the commissioner to identify research gaps to help inform future decision making. Findings of these two reports, along with early findings from the Commissioner’s ongoing work to map the provision of domestic abuse services, are shared the Safety Before Status report, launched today.

The report highlights key practical and long term changes to improve the pathways to support and protection for migrant survivors. With the Spending Review due to be concluding next week, the Commissioner is calling for funding to be allocated to enable victims and survivors with no recourse to public funds to access housing, and for holistic, wrap around support to be provided by specialist ‘by and for’ services that are tailored to their needs.

In addition, we are calling for a firewall between the police and immigration enforcement to be established following the ongoing review into data-sharing at the Home Office – and for this firewall to be extended to all public services through the upcoming Victims Bill. A greater awareness of immigration abuse is also vital for national policy makers and frontline professionals – which is why the report calls for immigration abuse to be included in national guidance on domestic abuse, and for a toolkit on NRPF and VAWG to be commissioned.

In the long-term, Home Office must develop a universal and clear pathway to support for all migrant victims and survivors of domestic abuse, after the Migrant Victims Pilot comes to an end next year. To enable this, the Commissioner is preparing to commission new research which will help identify the number of survivors in need of support, and the cost and cost benefit of supporting this group. 

We are grateful to the victims and survivors, policy influencers, frontline professionals and services and other experts who have helped to inform this research. Together, we are calling on government to put victims and survivors’ safety before their immigration status, and deliver the much needed changes in protection and support for this extremely vulnerable group.