Hostile environment / Women's rights

Theresa May has one last chance to protect migrant survivors of domestic abuse like me

Posted by Anonymous on 12 Jul 2019

Theresa May’s last action as Prime Minister should be to protect migrant women in the Domestic Abuse Bill.

After two years of marriage and thousands of pounds spent on immigration fees, I arrived in the UK on a spousal visa. I was so pleased to finally share a home with my British husband, and I was looking forward to building our lives together. While navigating life in a new country proved difficult at times, I quickly found a rewarding job and good friends. It felt like the beginning of an exciting new chapter.

Unfortunately, my partner had other plans. Soon after arriving in the UK, the emotional and psychological abuse began. He became increasingly critical, calling me names and frequently putting me down in front of others.

Over time, the abuse escalated. When he was angry, he was often physically violent, and I could never predict what would set him off next. After he started resorting to sexual abuse, I was terrified to undress in his presence.

Although I was the primary breadwinner, he prevented me from opening my own bank account and spent my earnings behind my back. His gaslighting techniques left me exhausted and questioning reality. When he began threatening to cancel my visa and kick me out of our home, I knew that I had to get out.

But as a migrant survivor, this was almost impossible. With no recourse to public funds or services, I wasn’t able to access refuge or housing support. I was afraid that my ex-partner would revoke my right to stay in the UK at any moment. The prospect of detention and deportation was constantly hanging over my head.

Without state assistance, I found a place to stay and opened a bank account. I secured legal representation to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK as a victim of domestic violence. At this point, I assumed that the worst was behind me. But the system is designed to shut migrants out.

Despite the economic abuse I’d experienced, I didn’t qualify for legal aid or a fee waiver. The immigration application cost me thousands, and the Home Office kept my passport and residence permit, leaving me without proof of my right to rent and work in the UK. My health was deteriorating, but GPs refused to register me without identification documents. It all felt so cruel and inhumane.

After careful consideration, I decided to report the abuse to the police. I was aware of the risk that my personal information could be passed to the Home Office, but I couldn’t bear the thought of my abuser inflicting similar treatment upon anyone else. While I’ve been assessed to be at “high risk of serious harm or homicide,” the police have failed to investigate my case properly or take meaningful measures to protect me. Instead, officers have suggested that I “just go home,” reflecting the Government’s current position on migrant victims.

Next week, the Domestic Abuse Bill is due to be laid in Parliament, following months of scrutiny and consultation over the draft legislation. As it stands, the Government’s draft Bill does not protect migrant survivors, leaving thousands like me without assistance or support.

However, there has been some cause for hope. In their recent report, the committee tasked with scrutinising the Bill recommended that the Government introduce a number of measures to protect migrant women like me – including a data ‘firewall’ between public services and immigration enforcement. This could ensure that every survivor is able to report abuse without fear of deportation. While the report didn’t go as far as migrant survivors had hoped, it is a significant step in the right direction.

Theresa May has just days left as Prime Minister, and has made it clear that she wants to push the Domestic Abuse Bill through before she leaves. As Home Secretary, May created the hostile environment – a cruel system which was embedded in our public services under her watch. That legacy will never leave her. But she has one last chance to remedy some of the damage she has caused – her last act as Prime Minister should be to use the Bill to protect migrant women like me from violence and abuse.

Two women lose their lives each week in England and Wales as a result of domestic abuse – at this point, I can only hope that I won’t be one of them. It’s time for the Government to do better and protect us all – regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, or immigration status.

Our lives literally depend on it.

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