Nationality and Borders Bill

Written evidence submitted by the End Violence Against Women coalition (EVAW) (NBB39)

S ubmission to the Nationality and Borders Public Bill Committee

About the End Violence Against Women (EVAW) coalition

EVAW is a leading coalition of over 100 specialist women’s support services, researchers, activists, survivors and NGOs working to end violence against women and girls in all its forms.


We make this submission to highlight the egregious harm that many of the proposals within the Nationality and Borders Bill would cause to women. We refute claims that its proposals would assist vulnerable women and girls. In contrast, the experience and expertise of EVAW and its member organisations tells us that enshrining many of these measures in legislation would greatly undermine the Government’s commitment to addressing violence against women and girls. At a time when there are important national conversations happening about how to prevent and address the scourge of gender-based violence in our society, we are unequivocal that the Nationality and Borders Bill in its current form will harm survivors , and lead to greater exploitation and victimisation of women and girls . We ask Bill Committee members to object to the proposals outlined below. We support the detailed submission made by Women for Refugee Women.

Government commitments to address violence against women and girls

In July 2021, the Government published the long-awaited Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy, which committed to ‘achiev[ing] real, sustainable progress’ in ending VAWG. This has coincided with national conversations about measures needed to address the scale of violence and abuse against women and girls in our society, illuminated by the tragic murders of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa and far too many others. In recent weeks , the Government has sought to reassure women and girls and the specialist women’s organisations that support them, that this issue is being taken seriously. The Home Secretary has stated: "Women and girls have said enough is enough and the Conservative Party agrees." As a coalition of specialist VAWG organisations , we state however, that these assurances are severely undermined by proposals in the Nationality and Borders Bill. If the Government is to fulfil its promises made in the VAWG strategy to continue ‘to work with violence against women and girls sector specialists’ and ‘continually improve and learn from [our] experiences, data and insight,’ [1] we ask that it urgently reviews the measures in this Bill.

It is already the case that the Government is unable to meet international standards in responding to VAWG through ratifying the Istanbul Convention nine years after signing, largely due to its treatment of migrant survivors in the UK. [2] Our concern is that its record on addressing VAWG will be eroded even further should it proceed with this legislation in its current form. 

Whilst the Equality Impact Assessment accompanying the Bill claims that proposals could ‘advance the equality of opportunity for ‘a cohort of females,’ [3] we set out some key ways in which they would cause harm to women and girls and increase the risk of gender-based violence. 

We outline below our concerns regarding four key measures within the Bill related specifically to VAWG. However, we also support broader opposition to the Bill, due to its punitive and discriminatory position towards those seeking refuge in the UK in desperate circumstances. 

Four ways the Nationality and Borders Bill will harm women and girls:

1. Greater hurdles for survivors in proving a well-founded fear

We are alarmed by the introduction of a restricted definition of ‘particular social group’ under Clause 30 of the Bill. This clause has been highlighted by Women for Refugee Women as one of the most dangerous, yet under-scrutinised aspects of the Bill in relation to women fleeing gender-based violence, as this ground in the Refugee Convention is frequently relied upon by survivors in order to obtain refugee status. The proposed definition reverses UK jurisprudence, with the requirement that two criteria must be met in order for an applicant to show that they are a member of a ‘particular social group’, rather than one (as is currently the case). Women will be significantly and disproportionately impacted by this change, which would represent an additional hurdle for those seeking to obtain refugee status. We repeat the statement made by Women for Refugee women that:

"This change was not heralded in the consultation and is an unexplained regressive step that, coupled with the change in the well-founded fear test, will result in more women being wrongly refused asylum."   

2. The creation of a t wo-tier system

We are opposed to the e xcl usion of women from a path to settlement and public funds on the basis of their mode of arrival and the speed of making their claim .

We object to Clause 10 of the Bill, and the overall categorisation of women according to their mode of arrival into the UK and the point at which they claimed asylum (Group 1’ and ‘Group 2’). A woman who arrives in the UK via a ‘safe third country’ or who is unable to make herself known to authorities ‘without delay’ (and is subsequently recognised in the UK as a refugee) would fall under ‘Group 2’. As a ‘Group 2’ refugee, she would have no automatic path to settlement, even where it is proven that she has a well-founded fear of persecution. She would have restricted family reunion rights and limited access to public funds. Clause 10(5) also allows the Home Secretary to set the length of any limited period of leave for ‘Group 2’ refugees, such that they may be indefinitely liable for removal. Temporary protection status could afford a person no more than 30 months of leave - according to the New Plan for Immigration -  after which they will be reassessed for return or removal.  

· As outlined by EVAW member Southall Black Sisters, Clause 10 takes no account of the " desperate circumstances in which many women are forced to flee from their countries of origin, or of how the experience of gender-based violence shapes their journey to the UK and determines the extent to which they can adhere to complex and changing immigration rules on arrival ." [4] The experience of many frontline VAWG services is that prior to and after arriving in the UK in desperate circumstances, many survivors are unaware of their rights and/or are deliberately misinformed about asylum and immigration law. The scarcity and underfunding of ‘by and for’ specialist VAWG services with the skills and expertise to support women in this position means that many survivors who arrive in the UK struggle to access appropriate support in order to make a claim. A reduction in high-quality legally aided immigration advisors has also led to many survivors receiving poor and inaccurate advice, which results in complicated immigration histories. Women fleeing gender-based violence must not be punished in these contexts. 

· The proposal flies in the face of long-standing evidence about the difficulties that women face in disclosing gender-based violence, abuse and trauma. It is widely understood by specialist women’s organisations that the process of disclosing a history of violence and abuse is often incredibly difficult for survivors and can take an extended period of time. It often relies on women being supported to understand and name what they have been through (sometimes with the assistance of translation services), and to overcome threats they may have received not to disclose what has happened on the basis of retaining their ‘honour’ and avoiding bringing ‘shame’ or harm upon themselves and/or their families. It often depends on a person being in a safe, trusted environment and overcoming fears about being disbelieved or judged. As explained by Women for Refugee Women in their oral evidence to the Bill committee: " Women who have been traumatised, because they have been violated, raped and all that, cannot provide that evidence straight away. They need time to heal, to be protected, to access mental health support. They need time to understand the system ." [5] It is inconceivable that women can justifiably be penalised for a delay in this context. (It is for this reason that we also object to Clause 16 and Clause 17 which specify that if a person fails to provide evidence within a specified period their credibility could be damaged, and to Clause 23 which encourages decision-makers to give ‘minimal weight’ to later evidence ‘unless there are good reasons’, which is undefined in the Bill and therefore left entirely to the discretion of the Home Secretary.)

· The Government’s explanatory notes on the Bill state that temporary protection status ‘may only allow access to public funds in cases of destitution’. Institutionalising women’s precarity and destitution through ‘temporary protection status’ creates conditions that are ripe for their abuse and exploitation . We already know that living in a state of limbo without routes to settlement and being excluded from the welfare safety net traps women in harmful and abusive situations and puts them at risk of escalating violence. [6] The Governments own draft statutory guidance framework for domestic abuse reports that survivors’ lack of access to public services and funds can create dependency on others, which is often exploited by abusers to exert control over them. [7] This is affirmed by research by Women for Refugee Women in 2020 with women seeking asylum, which  found that 35% said that destitution forced them to stay in a relationship they would not have otherwise stayed in: 38% of those who stayed in an unwanted relationship were raped by their partner, 41% experienced another form of sexual violence, and 35% were physically abused. [8] The creation of a temporary protection status will create conditions that coerce women into withstanding abusive relationships and environments to avoid destitution, homelessness and the fear of return to countries where they have fled danger. [9]  

· Furthermore, restricting access to public funds would lead to further pressure for specialist VAWG services who are already struggling to meet the demand for support from migrant survivors due to the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) condition (it excludes survivors from accessing the welfare safety net to cover the cost of their stay in refuges, as is relied upon by many other survivors). As it stands, figures from Women’s Aid for England and Wales shows that in 2019/20, almost 4 in 5 migrant women subject to NRPF [10] were turned away from a refuge, and this group makes up a large cohort of service-users of specialist ‘by and for’ services for black and minoritised women. During the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act in Parliament, the Government acknowledged that there is a gap in protection for women subject to NRPF and established a temporary Support for Migrant Victims scheme. However, it has capacity to support a maximum of 500 women over a 12-month period. [11] This clause would only exacerbate an already urgent problem created by government immigration policies

· Restrictions to family reunion rules for those with temporary protection status will also disadvantage women seeking to join a spouse, putting more women at risk of being compelled to make dangerous journeys. 

3. The expansion of accommodation centres which are re-traumatising for women and girls

· We object to clause 11 which would expand asylum accommodation centres for people waiting for their asylum claims to be processed, without any time limit (under subsection 8). Many people wait for claims to be processed for years. The use of accommodation centres will negatively impact women seeking asylum, many of whom are survivors of rape and other forms of gender-based violence. These environments are inappropriate and often re-traumatising for survivors. Being confined to living in closed environments that feel unsafe, with restricted liberty or autonomy to make decisions about their daily routines and company shares many parallels with survivors’ previous experiences of gender-based violence of having been imprisoned and controlled. 

· The lack of privacy that characterises such sites is also harmful for women and girls who have experienced gender-based violence, as it hinders survivors’ ability to disclose their history. The APPG on Immigration Detention notes that in Napier Barracks and Penally Camp, ‘the lack of private space was forcing residents to hold sensitive discussions, for example with lawyers, within earshot of other residents and/or staff’. Accommodation centres are the antithesis of environments conducive to the disclosure of gender-based violence including rape and sexual exploitation, let alone recovery. The use of accommodation centres will harm women and girls’ ability to get their claims for protection recognised.   


4. Offshore processing and detention of people seeking asylum     

· We object to the detention and off-shore processing of people seeking asylum, particularly due to the serious risk of gender-based violence occurring in these centres. Previous investigations of detention centres in the UK, such as the Lampard Report (2015) on Yarl’s Wood highlighted that between 2007-15, 10 members of staff were dismissed for incidents involving ‘sexual impropriety’ towards women held there. [12] The UK government will have even less control over the treatment of detainees in offshore detention centres. Thus, the risk to women of sexual violence and abuse in such centres will be increased. The sexual harassment and violence of women detained offshore by the Australian government has been well documented [13] and it is indefensible that the UK government puts women at girls at risk in this way.


The UK government has promised victims and survivors and women’s organisations that it is committed to preventing and addressing violence against women and girls in all its forms. However, our expertise and experience tells us that the proposals outlined above in the Nationality and Borders Bill, seriously undermine these commitments. EVAW urges members of the Bill Committee to object to these proposals which will harm women and girls subject to gender-based violence and increase the risk of re-victimisation and re-traumatisation in the UK. 

October 2021

[1] See page 83 of HM Government (2021) Tackling Violence against Women and Girls:

[2] The Council of Europe’s convention on preventing and combating violence against women and girls is internationally regarded as a the "gold standard" for responding to violence against women and girls (VAWG), and the biggest hurdle to ratification, is the absence of any provisions for migrant survivors that would comply with Articles 4(3) and 59 of the Convention (these articles outline obligations to ensure that survivors have access to protection and support without discrimination regardless of immigration or refugee status).

[3] New Plan for Immigration Overarching Equality Impact Assessment of polices being delivered through the Nationality and Borders Bill:



[4] Southall Black Sisters (May 2021) Lessons not Learned: The Home Office’s New Plan for Immigration represents an escalation of the ‘hostile’ environment policy, not a break from it:,not%20a%20break%20from%20it&text=The%20Plan%20is%20primarily%20focused,and%20those%20seeking%20asylum%20themselves

[5] HC Deb (23 September 2021) col 107

[6] Southall Black Sisters (2021) The Domestic Abuse Bill and Migrant Women: Briefing Paper 2:

[7] See Paragraph 77 page 21 of Home Office (July 2020) Domestic Abuse Draft Statutory Guidance Framework:

[8] Women for Refugee Women (2020) Will I Ever Be Safe? Asylum-seeking women made destitute in the UK:

[9] Southall Black Sisters (2021) The Domestic Abuse Bill and Migrant Women: Briefing Paper 2:

[10] Women’s Aid (2020) Nowhere to turn 2020: Findings from the Fourth Year of the No Woman Turned Away Project:

[11] Southall Black Sisters (2021) Briefing Paper on the Government’s Pilot Project to support Abused Women with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF):

[12] Lampard, K. (2016) Independent Investigation into Concerns about Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre ;

[13] See, for instance, Refugee Council of Australia (2020) Australia’s Man-made Crisis on Nauru ;



Prepared 22nd October 2021