Sisters Uncut

Taking direct action for domestic violence services.

#NoSisterisIllegal: Migrant Women and Domestic Violence

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

We believe that women’s lives are more important than pieces of paper. The government does not.

When a woman is facing domestic violence and wants to flee, the most important thing is that she has a safe exit plan, and a place to go.

Within the current climate of austerity where refuge spaces are limited, social housing is scarce and private rents are astronomically high, this already makes a survivor’s decision to flee violence incredibly difficult. After all, how can she leave when there is nowhere to go?

However, migrant women who want to escape domestic violence face a whole other set of challenges heaped on top of this.

Migrant women experiencing domestic violence have to make the choice between a violent household and detention or deportation. Both of these options can be life threatening.

We already know that migrant women face a higher risk of being killed by their partners. Yet undocumented women and non-binary people are barred from accessing support when they need it most. All because they are branded as ‘illegal’. No sister is illegal; women’s lives are worth more than pieces of paper.

Restrictive immigration laws and brutal austerity cuts to specialist services leave migrant sisters with nowhere to go. Let’s explore the options of where she can go:

A refuge?

Leaving an abusive situation is dangerous and all survivors need support and safety. Refuge spaces are funded through housing benefit, so migrant women with ‘no recourse to public funds’ (no access to state support) have no access to refuges, social housing and any other benefits for that matter.

2 in 3 migrant survivors do not qualify for the ‘Destitute Domestic Violence Concession’, which provides potential lifesaving short-term access to the benefits needed to get housed in a refuge. The lack of options not only make it difficult for sisters to leave violent relationships, but sisters may become vulnerable to intensified domestic violence after an attempt to flee.

In 2014 alone, 389 women fleeing domestic violence with ‘no recourse to public funds’ were turned away from refuge spaces. What happened to them?

A privately rented home?

The Immigration Bill 2014 forces private landlords run immigration checks on tenants, commonly known as the ‘right to rent’. This forces landlords to act as border control, and ensures that privately rented homes are inaccessible to undocumented migrants. These immigration checks also affect those forced to flee without their documentation (which abusers may hold onto as a means of control), leaving many sisters without safe housing.

Neighbours? Communities?

In the post-Brexit climate, not only do sisters stand to lose the already restricted access they have to professional support services, but now migrant sisters and sisters of colour are more likely to face violence from individuals and the state. This is a result of the racist, xenophobic and islamophobic discourse that has taken a stranglehold over our country and has raised the prevalence of state violence against migrants and people of colour.

The police?

Due to the additional threat of racism, deportation and detention, the police are not an option for many migrant sisters. Migrant women and non-binary people may not even be able to access support services if their immigration status is checked while they attempt to flee.

…Immigration detention centres?

Migrant women – no matter how long they have been living in the UK – seeking safety from the police may well be taken into detention, forcibly separated from their children, and deported. They may well be taken to Yarl’s Wood, to face further violence at the hands of male guards. These guards work for private security companies known for the violence against women and migrants, and the government is increasingly handing them contracts with a duty of ‘care’ toward people.

More concerning is that contracts for vital domestic and sexual violence services for survivors have been won by the same companies involved in border control, prison and detention services. Sisters fleeing violent men are forced to seek support from violent men. This conflict of interest is deliberate, and the government is structurally expanding the reach of its border control in the most sinister way.

The absence of support services for migrant women is racist and sexist. It places the government in complicity with perpetrators.

To end violence against women, we must address the institutional and state structures that encourage it. We need domestic violence support services, not punitive immigration detention centres.

As well as punishing migrant domestic violence survivors already living in the UK, the government turns its back on survivors seeking asylum from gendered violence. The UK’s indefinite detention system has long been criticised as inhumane, costly and ineffective. The money that is used for detention should be used to save lives, not to re-traumatise women with deprivation and abuse in detention. In many cases, migrant women and non-binary people are forced onto planes to their birth countries, where they are likely to be returning to much higher risk of violence.

We demand that the government invests public money in specialist support services that know how to save lives, not to private security contractors with a record of abuse.  

This is why North London Sisters Uncut are holding #NoSisterIsIllegal Week of Action against Prison and Detention aligned with the International Week of Action against Prison and Detention.

We believe the government should support survivors fleeing domestic violence, not persecute them.

Join us here:

#Nosisterisillegal #ProtectionNotPersecution