Domestic Abuse Bill

Written evidence submitted by Refugee Council (DAB09)

Domestic Abuse Bill – Public Bill Committee – Refugee Council Submission

About Refugee Council

1. The Refugee Council is one of the leading charities in the UK working with refugees and people seeking asylum. As a human rights charity, independent of government, we work to ensure that refugees are given the protection they need, that they are treated with respect and understanding, and that they have the same rights, opportunities and responsibilities as other members of our society.

2. Refugee Council has worked for many years to improve the outcomes for women seeking asylum who have experienced, or are at risk of, violence and abuse after arriving in the UK.

3. In July 2018, the Refugee Council and the Asylum Support Appeals Project published a report 'Women seeking asylum: Safe from violence in the UK?' [1] , looking at how the UK government responds to women facing domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence after arrival in the UK and during their time in the asylum system.

4. Following the publication of our report, the Home Office revised their guidance on responding to reports of domestic abuse from people seeking asylum. The revised guidance includes a number of new safeguards including a new funding mechanism enabling people seeking asylum to access specialist refuge accommodation and support services.

5. These new safeguards help to address some of the key concerns outlined in our report. However, there remain a number of ways that support could be improved for our clients through the Domestic Abuse Bill, as set out below.

Women seeking asylum who become appeal rights exhausted (ARE)

6. The Government states that all victims of domestic abuse should be treated first and foremost as victims, and all the measures in the Bill apply equally to all victims of domestic abuse in England and Wales, irrespective of their immigration status.

7. Currently the bill fails to address the needs of women who are forced to exit the asylum support system as a result of having their asylum claim refused and becoming appeal rights exhausted (ARE), with no recourse to asylum support or any other public financial support.

8. Women who become appeal rights exhausted are extremely vulnerable to homelessness and destitution, which in turn can expose them to an increased risk of abuse and exploitation. There is a particular risk of sexual exploitation when women have no alternative but to rely on friends, acquaintances, or strangers for accommodation.

9. If government action to tackle domestic abuse is truly to treat people as victims first, regardless of their immigration status, then support for women who are appeal rights exhausted must be brought forward.

10. To do this, the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) should be widened so that all women with insecure immigration status in the UK can access it, including refused asylum-seeking women, rather than just those entering the country on spousal visas.

11. Those accessing the DDVC also need more time than the three months of leave that it currently provides, in order to ensure they can access appropriate support and to regularise their immigration status by accessing legal representation and advice. The DDVC should therefore provide leave for at least six months.

12. To this end, MPs should support amendments that widen the scope of the DDVC and increase the length of leave that is provided. Further information can be sought from Southall Black Sisters who are leading work in this area and can provide further information, including draft amendments.

Barriers to disclosure for women seeking asylum

13. Women seeking asylum often fear reporting abuse because they believe that it could affect their immigration status or asylum claim.

14. They are often unaware of how the criminal justice system functions in the UK and are suspicious of state bodies and authority figures, due to their experiences in the countries from which they have fled. Perpetrators use these fears as a tool to isolate and control women.

15. The bill should create an effective firewall to separate immigration control from the public services that survivors seek help from.

16. This would ensure that women whose asylum claims have been refused can seek help without the overhanging threat of immigration enforcement,

17. The Latin American Women’s Rights Service, as part of the Step Up Migrant Women coalition, are leading on work in this area, and MPs seeking to make amendments on this issue should liaise with them for further information.

Housing support for refugee survivors of domestic abuse

18. Refugees regularly struggle to secure safe and secure housing once they acquire status in the UK, and refugee survivors of domestic abuse can be even more vulnerable to homelessness. Indeed, there is a real risk that women may be coerced into abusive relationships on the basis that the perpetrator is providing them with shelter, making it even more difficult to flee domestic abuse.

19. Individuals fleeing domestic abuse should automatically be considered in priority need for the purposes of the being housed by the relevant local housing authority, as has been recommended by the APPG on Ending Homelessness and the APPG on Domestic Violence and Abuse.

20. This change could be achieved through a simple amendment to the Housing Act 1996 that moves survivors of domestic abuse into the priority need category, and MPs should look to move an amendment on this basis.

Ratification of the Istanbul Convention

21. The measures contained in the bill are not compliant with Article 3(4) of the Istanbul Convention which states that ‘provisions of this Convention by the Parties, in particular measures to protect the rights of victims, shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as […} national or social origin {…or…} migrant or refugee status’.

22. As such, the draft bill leaves asylum-seeking women without the protection required by the Convention.

23. The government should take the opportunity presented by the bill to put in domestic legislation to ensure full compliance with Article 3(4) of the Istanbul Convention, to provide greater protection for women with insecure immigration status, including asylum-seeking women and those who are appeal rights exhausted.

October 2019

 

Prepared 29th October 2019