Domestic abusers are using victims’ immigration status as a tool of coercion and control, a new report warns.
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales has called for the government to "put victims’ safety ahead of their immigration status" and spend over £280 million on preventing such abuse.
Nicole Jacobs said some migrant victims are being forced to stay with their abusers or face destitution because they cannot access public funds to escape.
One survivor cited in the report said: “I could barely tolerate the abuse, but couldn’t dare going to the police.”
Another said: “I told him and his family I wanted to leave, and they told me if I did, I would starve because of my immigration status. That I have no rights in the UK.
“He kept throwing my card [visa] at me and telling me to read what it says at the back, that I can’t get support.”
The Commissioner's findings echo those of ITV News - in December one woman said her local authority could not pay for her to stay in a refuge due to her immigration status.
Ms Jacobs said that victims whose status means they have no recourse to public funds (NRPF) are reluctant to report abuse because they fear the police will pass their information on to immigration enforcement.
'You're waiting for the next attack': ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger heard from migrant women who had experienced domestic abuse
These fears are being exploited by perpetrators who are threatening victims that they will be deported if they come forward, and destroying or withholding their immigration documents, the report said.
She is calling for the term “immigration abuse” to be included in the national definition of domestic abuse and recognised in policy and guidance.
Ms Jacobs also wants an immediate firewall between agencies so victims can come forward without fear that their immigration details will be passed on.
The report, Safety Before Status, draws on research by the Angelou Centre as well as a review of Home Office evidence by the University of Suffolk.
One organisation told researchers: “We have to tell women who have risked everything and their lives to seek help ‘I’m sorry but we can’t guarantee that your data won’t be shared or that you won’t be deported’.
“How can we expect any women who are at risk of death to come forward?
“This is another reason why so many women remain in abuse.”
Ms Jacobs said the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act this year was a “critical step forwards”, but those with NRPF will be “left out of this vital provision”.
The government should also give local authorities £18.7 million over three years so those with NRPF can seek refuge, she says.
And a further £262.9 million over three years should fund specialist services, including those for victims with an ethnic minority background.
She said “Having spent over 20 years working on the front line, I have sat with victims and survivors and their children as they desperately seek a place of safety, only to be told that their immigration status means there is nowhere to go.
“This cannot be allowed to continue.”
She is planning further research to calculate the number of domestic abuse victims with NRPF which will be published in 2022.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We welcome this research from the Domestic Abuse Commissioner.
“We are carefully considering the findings of the report and will respond in due course.
“We offer support to migrant victims of domestic abuse through the domestic violence indefinite leave to remain route as well as our destitute domestic violence concession, which provides crisis support where individuals can access safe accommodation and public funds.”