Maria Miller is a former Culture Secretary, and is MP for Basingstoke.
It is widely accepted as a marker of a just society, that when a victim of domestic abuse bravely seeks help, they will have somewhere safe to go. For most migrant victims in the UK, that is not the reality.
Migrant victims and survivors of domestic abuse experience insurmountable barriers to accessing support. Those who do not have access to public funds – such as victims on visitor, work, or many other visa types – are often turned away from refuges which do not have the funding to support them.
This puts victims in the impossible situation of facing homelessness or being forced to live with the perpetrator.
As chair of the Join Committee which undertook pre-legislative scrutiny of the landmark Domestic Abuse Act before it made its way through Parliament, I heard frequently that support for migrant victims of domestic abuse was a significant gap in the landscape of domestic abuse services.
It is now almost a year since the Domestic Abuse Act was passed, and the Home Office’s Support for Migrant Victim’s Pilot came to an end last week on the 31st March. It’s time we addressed the long-term gaps that still exist for this most marginalised group of survivors.
In October 2021, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s report Safety Before Status found that too often a victim’s insecure status can be used as a further tool by the perpetrator to exploit and abuse them – defined by the Commissioner as ‘immigration abuse’.
Perpetrators may withhold and even destroy vital documentation and threaten to report victims to immigration enforcement if they try to flee. Evidence suggests that more than 90 per cent of migrant survivors of domestic abuse have experienced threats of deportation from the perpetrator.
As a result, many migrant victims are terrified of coming forward to the police and public services, and dangerous perpetrators are evading justice, potentially going onto exploit more victims.
In our 2020 report, the Joint Committee on the Domestic Abuse Bill made our recommendations for the improvement of support for migrant victims. As a crossbench, cross-party Committee, we were unanimous in calling for Government to explore ways to extend the temporary concessions available to ensure that all migrant victims can access protection and support.
We also supported calls to establish a firewall at the levels of policy and practice to separate reporting of crime and access to support services from immigration control, so that victims could safely report domestic abuse and come forward for support without fear.
When the Domestic Abuse Act finally passed in April 2021, it introduced truly transformative measures for most victims. But unfortunately these vital changes for migrant victims were not included. The Government did commit to undertake a pilot to fund short-term support for migrant survivors, to help inform long term decision making later this year – but with the funding covering support for just 300-500 victims, the pilot is insufficient to meet need.
I said at the time the pilot was announced that we cannot allow ourselves to be continually in the situation where we do not know how to put in place a long-term scheme to support migrant victims. It has now been a year since the pilot launched, and it’s time we moved on from short-term offerings.
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s report was clear that long term support is vital. In July 2022 she will be publishing further research to help calculate how many survivors without recourse to public funds there are, how much it will cost to support them, and what the financial and social benefits of supporting them would be.
It is my strong recommendation that this vital evidence helps to feed into what the Home Office’s future plans for support will look like.
I was pleased to see the Government commit to considering this evidence and establishing a pathway of support that is available to all victims, regardless of their immigration status. But more can be done to help survivors who need it now: in the short term, the Commissioner is calling for £6.2m to be set aside a year to ensure that victims of domestic abuse with NRPF can access accommodation and subsistence in a time of crisis.
With the Support for Migrant Victims Pilot concluding last week, I hope the government will now take timely measures to improve support – in the short and long term. For victims desperately in search of somewhere safe to stay, there can be no more waiting.