The government’s landmark and long-overdue Domestic Abuse Bill has passed through the House of Commons.
While it has – quite rightly – addressed a vast majority of issues surrounding domestic violence, including such evils as coercive control and protection of children who witness domestic abuse the government has once again left the fortunes of migrants, in this case migrant women, to their own fates.
A number of organizations – including Amnesty International – have decried the lack of protections in the Bill for migrant women who fall victim to domestic abuse.
It shows, yet again, the government’s alarming lack of understanding and utter cluelessness about the lives of a segment of the UK’s population that contributes so much to society and is yet remain so unprotected by its legal system and vulnerable to abuse.
Nowhere was that cluelessness more evident recently when Boris Johnson appeared to be surprised that migrants with “no recourse to public funds” because of their visa status would not receive the appropriate coronavirus protections.
But instead of filling in such gaps in knowledge, the government – and the ever more incompetent Home Office – has merely ploughed on, failing to provide protections for migrant women in the new Domestic Abuse Bill.
They have washed their hands off of women who, as a result of their very status in this country, are far more vulnerable to abuse than those who are British citizens or permanently settled in this country. They are the ones without close family or social links, lack support of any kind and have little or no knowledge of their rights in this country; the kind of people who depend entirely on their partners, men who will exploit the fact that they are their sponsor and exploit their vulnerabilities.
These are precisely the kind of women that a Domestic Abuse Bill SHOULD protect.
Indian ladies UK (ILUK) represents 40,000 first-generation migrants Indian women living across the UK and have helped hundreds of migrant women who become victims of domestic violence.
Many of these women move to the UK after getting married to Indian men who are either settled permanently in the UK or are British citizens. Still others move with their existing partners to take up work opportunities.
In the 5 years of our existence we have seen hundreds of vulnerable women who are also victims of domestic violence or abuse.
Women who entered the UK as dependents of settled people or British citizens receive some support from the government if they become victims of domestic violence.
They can apply for a ‘Destitution Domestic Violence’ concession which allows them access of public funds and support for up to six months. They may also be also may be eligible to apply for permanent residency if they can “prove” they suffered from domestic violence – a process that is arduous for many who suffer the most appalling physical, emotional and psychological violence.
For those who travel to the UK as dependents of work permit holders however, the situation is far worse. With absolutely no recourse to public services they are left in utter limbo.
There are hardly any refuges for victims with no recourse to public funds (NRPF). Most shelters are often full whilst others demand unto £350 pounds a week from those who don’t qualify for help, prompting the question as to why these places are even called “refuges”. And how is a destitute person supposed to obtain that kind of money?
I have personally dealt with and provided shelter for dozens of women who have fallen victim and who are turned away from any kind of help due to their visa status; women who had been totally and utterly dependent on their husbands and who are left penniless and have no idea as to what they should do.
These are almost always young women with excellent educations and hailing from good families reduced to standing bewildered in bus shelters, penniless, unaware of their rights or what they are legally entitled to – which amounts to precisely nothing.
In short, victims with no recourse to public funds receive no assistance whatsoever from any authority in case they become vulnerable.
As victims of domestic violence, if they are kicked out of their homes by their husbands or run out as a result of being physically assaulted it is more often than not the VICTIM who is asked to leave the marital home or distance themselves because they are on a visa.
The Police or the local council will not take responsibility to offer an alternate shelter to the victim, she is not even asked if she has anywhere to go.
Indian Ladies UK – despite being self-funded and not receiving any assistance, financial or otherwise, from any governmental or non-governmental body – has worked relentlessly with the Indian High Commission to house and support these victims.
Members of ILUK have opened their own homes to victims who don’t “qualify” for refuge.
Following a concerted campaign with the Indian Foreign Ministry, the Indian government moved to release some funds called the ‘welfare fund’ to help distressed citizens in the UK and elsewhere. But there are limitations to that too.
What many fail to understand is that when the crime has taken place in the UK and the perpetrator falls under the jurisdiction of the UK authorities, why must the Indian government step in to help the victim? It must be the responsibility of the UK to look after the victim.
As a result of the status quo, many victims are only moved to report their abusive partners to the authorities once they have reached the ultimate end of their tether, having suffered months and years of abuse. They have often gone beyond the suffering of normal human comprehension. And when they are on the verge of being abandoned.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking case that I have had to dealt with was that of a young woman from south India who quietly left the home she shared with her abusive husband in East London, travel on a train to the Kent coast before taking her own life by jumping into the English channel.
Most victims are tricked into traveling to India by their partners where their passports and British Residency Permit cards are taken away and their visa is cancelled so they cannot return to the UK.
As they are unable to return to the UK immediately, it provides a window for their abusive husbands the opportunity to return and cancel their visas for the Home Office – a process that merely requires a single email from the “sponsor” and no clarification from the dependent.
The same Home Office which goes to such extraordinary lengths to make sure that a marriage is genuine while issuing a dependent visa makes no effort to check the background of the matter, contact the victim to get their side of the story or see if the man has been reported to the Police for domestic violence.
Many women think they are in a normal marriage until the day they get a notification from the Home Office saying they need to leave the country or should not enter back if they are abroad as their sponsor has reported the marriage has broken down.
In many instances victims don’t even get a notification from the home office about their visa cancellation – they think they are returning back to the UK after a short break when they find themselves questioned and stopped on suspicion of being illegal and deported to India.
That return is then marked by marginalization by patriarchal families and communities leading women to utter destitution.
We have seen dozens of heartbreaking cases where a victim has entered the UK as a dependent of Tier 1 or Tier 2 sponsors where subsequently the main applicant has become settled but the Home Office allows the defendant to remain on a visa that says that she is a dependent of a work permit holder to avoid the time clock for settlement to be reset.
This means that technically these dependents are partners of settled people in the UK but are treated as those who have no recourse to public funds purely because they entered the country as the dependent of a work permit holder and their BRP cards still say they are dependents of someone on a visa.
These victims are also denied any kind of help by the authorities and in case their partners cancel their visa, they are asked to leave the country unlike those on a spouse dependent visa.
Most women have no choice but to return back to their country and suffer backlash not just by their families but by society as a whole too. Indian society still only blames the woman if the marriage breaks down because she is expected to make it work whatever it takes including taking abuse from the husband.
The victims are usually handed an ex parte divorce by their UK based husbands even if the marriage has taken place in India and the victim is not in the UK, with no financial settlement or support of any kind. They must merely accept their fate as they have no right to remain in the UK to fight for their rights or challenge the unilateral and unjust decisions made by their partners.
UK courts continue to hand out these divorces despite the fact that they not recognized under Indian law which only recognizes divorce by mutual consent. These men merely use their residency in the UK and British law to obtain these one-sided divorces.
Most of these women are those whose marriages have been arranged by their families by paying hefty dowries and bearing huge wedding expenses. All these expenses are never recovered.
All the gifts and gold ornaments that the victim has brought with her after marriage are also never returned to her.
While it gives the abuser a clean break to rebuild their lives in the UK, the women are left rudderless and destitute in India. In many cases, their children – because they are born in the UK and thus have British citizenship – are estranged from them.
It is a widespread and horrific abuse of a global community of women that shames us all and should prompt the UK government to take immediate action.
A domestic abuse victim is a victim of violence – irrespective of their caste, creed, religion and visa status. But the UK’s immigration system – and now its Domestic Abuse Bill – has repeatedly failed these victims who have been routinely treated as a negligible entity, a mere statistic.
As the Bill passes into the House of Lords, peers must reconsider and amend it.
Failure will mean that the suffering of countless victims will be on the conscience of this government.