Sisters Uncut

Taking direct action for domestic violence services.

Embedded Immigration Officers in Our Services

Sunday, July 8, 2018

CN: discussion around detention, state violence, deportation, and accounts of sexual and domestic abuse

Theresa May’s racist and sexist ‘hostile environment policy’ has already brought surveillance and border enforcement into the NHS, schools, local libraries, the police force, and the rental sector.

Now, local authorities including Southwark, Bexley, Greenwich, and Lewisham have started using the state’s austerity limited funds to embed immigration officers into their services. This leaves survivors of sexual and domestic violence with insecure immigration status in a lose-lose situation. Forced to make the choice between violent abuse in the home, or violent abuse from the Home Office.[1]

Rather than being supported by local authority run services, survivors with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) and other unstable immigration status’, are being forced into deeply traumatising interviews with embedded immigration officers from the Home Office.[2]

Under the guise of “extra support”, embedded immigration officers from the Home Office are increasingly becoming gatekeepers to local authority assistance. This takes place alongside the at-times unintentional complicity of those employed by the local authorities, which can include social workers and frontline domestic violence support workers. The presence of embedded immigration officers in these frontline services means that survivors themselves are facing arrest, detention, and possible deportation when they present to the local authority for the support they need to survive. As a result, many survivors will not seek help at all, out of fear of revealing their immigration status. The consequences of this are life-threatening. For example, last year ‘a woman who reported being kidnapped and raped was arrested on immigration charges while being cared for at a centre for sexual assault victims [in London]’. She was ‘five months pregnant at the time of her arrest’.

Even when a survivor with insecure immigration status does make the huge decision to seek support from a local authority (in spite of the threat of deportation from embedded immigration officers and the hostile environment more widely), the funding is often not there to help them. The lack of refuge space and social housing available to survivors is a nation-wide problem. Refuge budgets in the England and Wales have been slashed by almost a quarter, resulting in 1,000 women and children being turned away by refuges over a six-month period. This lack of support is only amplified for survivors with NRPF. There are currently only 6-8 refuge beds in the whole of the country dedicated to survivors with No Recourse to Public Funds. For these survivors the options go from few to none.

When survivors reach out for support, many are desperate. Many have already attempted to leave their relationship many times before. It can be overwhelming, confusing and terrifying. This is further compounded for survivors with NRPF, and many are unaware of their rights when confronted with embedded immigration officers who behave like the perpetrators they have fled from.

This hostile environment plays into the perpetrators’ hands. We know perpetrators weaponise the immigration status of survivors and use it against them. Perpetrators frequently threaten survivors with their precarious immigration status. They tell survivors that if they speak out they will be deported. They tell survivors that no one will believe them, due to their immigration status. One survivor explained that their abusive partner would say “you cannot do anything because you are undocumented”. After being left ‘destitute’ by this perpetrator, they were subsequently ‘failed by the state’ with no laws to turn to for protection and no funds to facilitate their escape from violence.[3] Fear of the Home Office, as well as fear of an abusive partner, creates a toxic environment which allows for, and perpetuates, abuse. How can they leave if there’s nowhere to go?

The government pretends to us that they care about survivors. They implement tokenistic schemes such as the Domestic Violence Concession which organisations like Southall Black Sisters have proven do not work,[4] whilst at the same time embedding immigration officers into our services and local authorities. These policies are a dangerous distraction from the hostile environment they are creating behind closed doors.

Embedding Home Office staff enforces racist and sexist policies which are pervasive components of institutional violence, through the immigration control of survivors – not only in their home but by the Home Office. There is a need to call into attention the central and local governments’ focus on reaching targets at the expense of their duty of care, including that of survivors of domestic abuse. We have already seen the way in which the hostile environment has grown at an exponential rate, behind closed doors without any noise, and we believe that embedding immigration officers into Local Authorities is just the beginning. And it must be stopped.

Do Local Authorities such as Southwark, Bexley, Greenwich and Lewisham really believe spending £80,000 per immigration enofcement officer to bolster a ‘hostile environment’ is the best use of their limited funds?[5]

Sisters Uncut – South East London demands that:

1 – Southwark, Bexley, Greenwich and Lewisham cease working with the Home Office to embed immigration officers into their services, and commit to stop colluding with the Home Office to facilitate the detention and administrative removal of survivors.

2 – Funds that are currently being spent on embedded immigration officers in Southwark, Bexley, Greenwich, and Lewisham are used towards funding and increasing sexual and domestic violence services and refuges for ALL survivors.

3 – Southwark, Bexley, Greenwich and Lewisham immediately signpost survivors to qualified and trusted immigration advisers, as well as provide them with information about domestic and sexual violence services that are run without Home Office involvement from NRPF survivors seeking assistance from their Local Authority.

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If you are a survivor and are worried about accessing support, you can call any of the below for free and confidential advice:

Project 17 https://www.project17.org.uk/contact/

Rights of Women http://rightsofwomen.org.uk/get-advice/immigration-and-asylum-law/

The National Domestic Violence Helpline https://www.womensaid.org.uk/information-support/helpline/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI4PzupfqR3AIV04yPCh2i8Qw6EAAYASAAEgJE0PD_BwE

The National Rape and Sexual Abuse Helpline http://www.rasasc.org.uk/

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[1] We recognise that not all domestic and sexual abuse happens in the home, and can happen anywhere.
[2] NRPF is a condition applied to most people who are subject to immigration control – those who come to the UK as visitors, students, asylum-seekers, workers, or as partners cannot receive any help from the state, however dramatically their situation may have changed since arrival.
[3] Case study from LAWRS.
[4] The DDVC grants the (few) successful applicants temporary access to public funds for 3 months. For many legal advisers it is perceived as a somewhat generous immigration provision; however, the strict eligibility criteria and 37-page application form of increasingly vague questions – the survivor must not be “of bad character” – keep this option well out of reach for most with no legal help
[5] Figure taken from Freedom of Information Requests.