The Home Secretary should answer urgent questions on why refugee women – as well as others with insecure immigration status – are being denied protection when they flee domestic violence, according to an SNP Member of Parliament.
Anne McLaughlin, MP for Glasgow North East, has written to Theresa May MP asking her to look into the lack of safety nets which see the lives of victims of domestic abuse with insecure immigration status – including asylum seekers, those joining refugee husbands through the family reunion process and other women granted leave to remain but without access to public funds – put at risk.
Her letter was in response to an investigation by The Ferret, published in tandem with The National last week, which revealed that refugee and asylum seeking women in Scotland had been advised by some lawyers they should consider staying in abusive situations rather than risk being sent back to their countries of origin.
The investigation also highlighted the plight of women across the UK who have been denied access to refuge accommodation or thrown out because they were unable to pay, leaving them facing homelessness.
In one case a destitute 19-year-old woman studying for her A-levels was told she would have to leave a refuge because she could not pay £1200 of rent arrears.
In another, a Pakistani woman living in Northern Ireland whose husband had threatened to stab her, was told by charities, statutory authorities and police that they could not offer help until her immigration status had been resolved.
Those working with asylum seekers claimed the culture of disbelief was so ingrained that lawyers sometimes told women that unless they could categorically prove violence had happened it was better to stay quiet as mentioning it would affect their credibility when making a claim for protection.
One Iranian woman living in Glasgow, who joined her husband through family reunion and was verbally and physically abused by him, said she was told by a lawyer she might be better to stick it out for five years, at which point she would have legal leave to remain in her own right.
In a letter McLaughlin called on May to make available the numbers of women who have suffered domestic abuse but have no recourse to public funds, and demanded to know how the current policies chimed with the Government’s own violence against women action plans.
She also called for an urgent response to consultations made with refugee and violence against women 14 months ago to which the Government had not made any public comment on.
McLaughlin said: ”I want to ensure that all women who are at risk of abuse and also living in fear of being deported if they leave the abusive situation – get all the support and assistance they need.
”That is why I have written to the Home Secretary Theresa May to get an undertaking that any failures in the system are addressed and quickly. Scotland has such a proud record of welcoming asylum seekers and refugees and we cannot allow people living in such a difficult situation already to face further distress because they are scared of reporting something as intolerable as domestic abuse.”
Following The Ferret’s investigation Scottish Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis and Zero Tolerance held a hustings in which they called on every candidate standing in the 2016 Holyrood Elections to commit to securing sustainable funding for domestic abuse services, and a safe home, access to justice and safe child contact for women and children experiencing domestic abuse in Scotland.
Fiona Hyslop MSP, who attended said: “One of the main issues that came up with the need to have housing available for every woman who is fleeing abuse and this would apply equally to refugees as well.”
In response, a Home Office spokesman said: “Domestic violence is a terrible crime and this Government is determined to tackle it.”