Domestic Abuse Bill: 'More help for migrant women needed'

By Hollie Goodall & Sarah Lee
BBC News

image copyrightGetty Images

Help should be available to all domestic abuse survivors, no matter their immigration status, campaigners have said.

They are urging MPs to add legislation that better protects migrant women to the Domestic Abuse Bill.

Currently, some immigrants with an insecure status cannot access public funds or housing and refuge support.

The Home Office said the response to domestic crimes "would be transformed" by the legislation.

The Domestic Abuse Bill goes into its report stage on Monday.

A £1.5m pilot will be launched later this year to help charities supporting victims with no recourse to public funds.

But campaigners say more needs to be done to ensure migrants are better protected.

"We must protect all victims, no matter where they're from," campaign group Step Up Migrant Women said.

Domestic abuse survivor Somiya Basar, 36, who is originally from India and is now living in Southall, said she had difficulty getting help as a migrant.

She attended Parliament to give evidence about how she said the current system neglected to care for such individuals.

image copyrightSomiya Basar
image captionMs Basar said help should not be subject to immigration status

Ms Basar was married at the age of 19 in Bombay to a British man whom she did not know.

She said: "My idea of marriage was quickly shattered. It was not long before I began to feel like a slave.

"I was the housemaid, I was an instrument for him to use to have babies. I was the nanny and the chef.

"The situation soon developed into physical, emotional and financial abuse. My husband had total control over me.

"I remained in the marriage because of the constant threats that if I would not conform, my children would be taken away."

After more than a decade of abuse Ms Basar divorced her husband and received custody of her three children.

But her now ex-husband has fled to the UK with the children, leaving her "completely destitute".

After months of battling to get her children back, Ms Basar received help from domestic abuse charity Southall Black Sisters.

image copyrightSomiya Basar
image captionMs Basar has moved to the UK to try to win custody of her children

"Without their help, it would be impossible for me to be here and see my children."

Ms Basar cannot get help from the government as her immigration status means she has no recourse to public funds.

"This again makes me vulnerable and at the mercy of my abuser."

She hopes the new bill will "ensure help is available to everyone who needs it".

"The only qualification for help should be that you're destitute, you've been abused and you need help."

'Escape the beating'

Mary, not her real name, from Tottenham, also struggled to receive support after her husband's family domestically abused her and her two children.

She finally escaped from the family in Merton after receiving help from charity Sistah Space.

Her immigration status meant she was not eligible for housing support.

"If I could have just got help with housing, it would have taken so much off my shoulders," she said.

"To just get away from the shouting and the beating.

"Without Sistah Space I wouldn't be here today. There are so many women who need help.

"Something needs to change."

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe Domestic Abuse Bill goes into its report stage on Monday

Kate Allen, of Amnesty International UK, said migrant woman often felt "trapped" with nowhere to go for help.

"There have been cases where women have gone to the police for help only to be turned away because they are migrants," she said.

She said victims felt prevented from going to the police through fear of detention and being deported.

A Home Office spokesperson said: "No-one should have to experience the horrors of domestic abuse, including migrants from black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds."

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