By Nadeem Badshah
CELEBRITIES and activists have urged the government to overhaul laws to help save migrant domestic abuse victims.
Singers Dua Lipa and Emile Sandé, along with actors including Dame Judi Dench and Olivia Colman, are among those who have called for legislation to help women who fear being deported.
The stars signed a 30,000-name petition, which was presented to home secretary Priti Patel, calling for changes to the Domestic Abuse Bill which is currently before the House of Lords.
According to campaigners, because victims fleeing abusers are often referred to the Home Office by police, many continue to stay in violent relationships for fear of being deported or losing their children if they report their ordeal.
The campaign with Amnesty International is calling for survivors to receive protection and not face immigration enforcement. They also want migrant abuse victims to be allowed to apply to extend their visas independent of their abusive partners.
Rani Bilkhu, founder of the Jeena International charity supporting victims, told Eastern Eye: “We do have a [moral] right to protect these victims.
“One woman I know who had a nikkah wedding ceremony here [in Berkshire] was duped into going back to Pakistan with her husband, who came back with their child and took all her belongings and documents.
“Her UK visa was going to expire when she was in Pakistan. I managed to get her back here. She was an abandoned wife and is still with her husband because financially she cannot look after her child.
“Not only was there physical and mental abuse, but he also put the household bills in her name and left her with a lot of debt.”
Bilkhu added: “At times these women are silenced by cultural reasons and their immigration status, especially those with children. It is really unfair.”
Current laws mean some immigrants with an insecure status cannot access public funds, housing and refuge support.
Research by King’s College London of 50 migrant domestic abuse victims found 45 per cent were denied support by police when reporting and 34 per cent were not believed by officers.
Nazek Ramadan, director of the Migrant Voice charity, told Eastern Eye: “It’s indefensible that some women are prevented from accessing the help and protection they need, just because of their immigration status.
“It’s discrimination, pure and simple. And by rejecting an amendment that would put this right, MPs are condoning it.
“We urge the House of Lords to vote through these vital provisions and take the first step towards ending this injustice.”
Domestic abuse survivor Somiya Basar, who is from India and now lives in London, attended parliament to give evidence about how she believes the current system neglects victims.
Basar, who got married at the age of 19 in Mumbai to a British man, said: “The situation soon developed into physical, emotional and financial abuse. My husband had total control over me.
“I remained in the marriage because of the constant threats that if I would not conform, my children would be taken away.”
After more than a decade of abuse, she divorced her husband and received custody of her three children. But he fled to the UK with their children, leaving her “completely destitute”.
She added: “The only qualification for support should be that you are destitute, you’ve been abused and you need help.”
Khalid Mahmood is a Labour MP and shadow cabinet minister.
He said: “A lot of people come here for safety, running away from domestic violence and abuse. Their lives are at risk, these are desperate conditions they are living in.
“It’s fine to have the Domestic Abuse Bill for women here, but women from abroad are being persecuted. Also, it’s important for the Lords and campaigners to push for it [the changes]. It should not be based on your status. We should not segregate people.”
In the past six months, the Ashiana Network charity, said it has supported over 70 women with insecure immigration and no recourse to public funds.
Shaminder Ubhi, director of the charity, said: “As the government progresses with the Domestic Abuse Bill, we are disappointed that there is a reluctance to make changes to better protect migrant women affected.
“Affording all women equal access to support and services, regardless of their immigration status, is absolutely essential to ensure equal protection for migrant women. This issue is not about controlling borders but about saving lives.”
The Home Office set aside £1.5 million for a pilot fund to cover the cost of support for migrant women with no recourse to public funds in refuges.
It said the response to domestic crimes “would be transformed” by the Domestic Abuse Bill.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “No one should have to experience the horrors of domestic abuse, including migrants who are from black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds.”