No victim or survivor of domestic abuse should ever be prevented from accessing the support and protection they need. But my research has shown that migrant survivors with no recourse to public funds are faced with little or no accommodation when fleeing domestic abuse.
One survivor who was supported by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service told me that after ending the relationship with her abuser, she was forced to stay with him and his family because the no recourse to public funds condition left her with no other options. This is the stark reality facing many migrant victims: stay with the perpetrator or face destitution and homelessness.
Today the government has published its long-awaited evaluation of a pilot to support migrant survivors with no recourse to public funds. The evaluation provides yet more evidence of the positive benefits of support for migrant victims, and demonstrates that a longer term, more comprehensive solution is urgently needed.
The ‘Support for Migrant Victims’ scheme has been administered by the charity Southall Black Sisters since its introduction in 2021, and provided much-needed accommodation and support to a few hundred victims and survivors each year.
Survivors reported greater independence, wellbeing, and an ability to rebuild their lives following domestic abuse. Many also had successes in regularising their immigration status, and half had access to public funds by the end of the pilot.
However this small pilot has only ever been a temporary sticking plaster. My Safety Before Status: the Solutions research found that each year there are some 7,700 migrant victims and survivors who need safe domestic abuse accommodation.
Furthermore, the evaluation published by government today found that support offered through the pilot was too brief, particularly for survivors in complex legal circumstances. In some cases, funding was even found to be insufficient to cover basic needs such as housing and food, especially for survivors with children.
I have made several recommendations to the government on how better to support migrant survivors. In Safety Before Status: the Solutions I called on government to provide an estimated £537 million funding over 10 years. This solution would have almost £2.3 billion social gains over a 10-year period.
I was concerned when these proposals were rejected by the government in its response last month to my report. While the government committed to extending the Support for Migrant victims pilot for a further two years, this is no replacement for the thousands of victims and survivors who will be left with nowhere to turn.
Alongside a need for adequately funded support, my research found that many survivors are fearful of coming forward to the police and other public services, in case their information is passed onto immigration enforcement. Many migrant survivors describe a fear of deportation or detention which prevents them from being able to report domestic abuse.
In the upcoming Victims’ and Prisoners’ Bill, I am calling on the Government to introduce a Firewall between public services and immigration enforcement. This would allow migrant victims of domestic abuse to report to the police and access support without fear.
I also want to see the Government extend the legal routes available to migrant victims to regularise their status, through the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession and Domestic Violence Indefinite Leave to Remain.
No victim or survivor should ever be denied a lifeline because of their immigration status.
As this long-awaited evaluation is finally published, I am calling on government to make these urgent changes and put safety before status for all.
You can read my statement on the evaluation here.