The UK’s Home Office has launched earlier this month a three-month pilot scheme to grant women facing violence and who have insecure immigration status the ability to access a refuge and seek specialised support.
Women who hold spousal or international student visas or who are in the UK on temporary work permits, are currently unable to access a refuge or specialised support because of the ‘no recourse to public funds’ rule.
Amnesty International and Southall Black Sisters, which have campaigned against the ‘no recourse’ rule for months, have interviewed dozens of women who have been affected by the rule and gathered testimonies from dozens of refuge workers, police and medical professionals who have previously been obliged to turn women away and leave them with no other option but to return to the place of violence.
One caseworker interviewed by Amnesty told of a woman who was physically and sexually abused by her husband and family – at one point she was doused in petrol and threatened to be set alight. She was returned to her home after fleeing to her GP for help because she was on a spousal visa and had no access to a refuge.
The pilot proposal outlined by the Home Office Minister Alan Campbell MP now provides the security of funding a woman’s refuge place for up to 40 days and enabling her to access the support required by survivors of domestic or other violence.
The government initiative will run for three months, and will be followed by an evaluation which will be conducted in March 2010.
“This announcement is certainly a welcome step in the right direction, albeit a long time coming, which would enable hundreds of women to escape an abusive situation and access a refuge,” said Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen.
“However this is only a short term pilot scheme. Women who have no recourse to public funds have been until now trapped in a cycle of violence. Only once the Government provides a permanent solution to providing assistance and support for these very vulnerable women will they have fulfilled their human rights’ commitments to provide safety and justice for all women fleeing violence living in their jurisdiction.”