Migrant victims of domestic abuse are being pushed from “pillar to post”, refused beds in refuges and reported to immigration enforcement after seeking help, a committee has heard
Women fleeing domestic abuse have been reported to immigration officials by police and have subsequently refused to engage in services, the Home Affairs Committee was told.
Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs and other witnesses representing domestic abuse services repeated calls for a firewall between police and immigration authorities in such cases.
This would help victims, they said, with one witness warning that current practices are “costing a lot – the trust of women, the safety of women”.
Vicky Marsh, interim director of Safety4Sisters, a service in the North West, told MPs that one domestic abuse victim was taken straight to the Home Office by police after seeking help in Liverpool.
Of the 196 women supported by the charity last year, she said just 57 engaged with the police. She believes this is mainly down to fear, reinforced by abusers, that they will be reported to immigration and face detention and deportation.
She told MPs: “I think if it’s not clear that there is a firewall and the police don’t make it clear to women, then they will not use the police or they will be reluctant and frightened to use the police except in very extreme circumstances.”
She also told of the struggles faced by migrant women who are subject to the no recourse to public funds (NRPF) condition, which restricts their eligibility to receive some public support based on their immigration status.
One mother was put up in a bed and breakfast for a week “while two different local authorities argued out whose responsibility she was”, she said.
Another victim, sleeping rough with a kidney problem, was initially refused help from housing and social services because she was subject to NRPF, with the latter “shockingly” saying there were toilets available in the nearby 24-hour McDonald’s, she added.
Of the 196 women supported last year, she said 147 were refused a bed in a refuge.
Migrant victims, who see how they are being pushed “from pillar to post”, have come to feel they are not “worth the safety”, she added.
Elizabeth Jimenez-Yanez, from the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS), said one “terrified” victim of abuse and stalking was encouraged to report this to the police.
She said they arrived at her home without an interpreter, blamed her for engaging with her abuser online, called immigration enforcement in front of her, and eight days later she received an immigration letter.
She said: “That was enough to call her case worker and say, ‘I don’t want to engage with you any more. I know it’s not your fault, but I cannot trust anyone’.
“She disappeared – we don’t know what happened to her.
“So that’s why a firewall is needed, because any involvement of immigration enforcement. it’s going to prevent, and it’s going to also put a burden on the police.”
In December 2020, the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS), the College of Policing (CoP) and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) urged police to stop sharing immigration information with the Government when they have concerns about the residency status of domestic abuse victims.
It followed a policing super-complaint by charities Liberty and Southall Black Sisters about the practice of police sharing immigration information about victims with the Home Office.
Ms Jacobs said she “really was disappointed” that the Government has not taken up this recommendation, and said there are inconsistencies across forces.
She said: “People who are highly vulnerable, who are operating with a lot of challenges in terms of understanding the context, they really need to know very clearly ‘is there going to be a negative consequence to this help-seeking or not?’.
“There are people who would worry about seeing a health provider for reasons of worrying about immigration enforcement.
“There’s a lot of obstacles that we would say ‘well on the face of it that shouldn’t happen’.
“Well, it doesn’t really matter what should or shouldn’t happen, it’s what’s in the mind of the victim, the obstacles in that person’s mind, that we have to think of as our starting point.”
Also giving evidence was HM Inspector of Fire & Rescue Services Roy Wilsher.
He said things have started to change since the super-complaint, with updated National Police Chiefs’ Council guidance that safeguarding “should come first” and the College of Policing including migrant women in its domestic risk assessment methodology.
He said: “Although we’ve not made progress on a firewall or a protocol that we would all have wished for, and we would like that to be progressed in some manner, I think things have started to change.”