This guest blog was written by The Latin American Women’s Rights Service for Refugee Week 2022.
This year Refugee Week’s theme is healing. As a migrant women’s community organisation, healing resonates strongly with LAWRS. Recovery is central to our commitment to supporting and campaigning for the rights of migrant victims and survivors of gender-based and state violence. This theme reminds us of the importance of love, humanity and compassion to ensure women can be safe and access redress without discrimination. We see healing as a political act of resistance for victims/survivors of violence against women and girls (VAWG) with insecure immigration status who are often re-injured when navigating the British immigration system to seek protection.
In 2022, healing becomes more relevant as the hardening of hostile immigration legislation has hindered options and spaces where migrant, refugee, and asylum-seeking women can recover. For instance, in the last years, specialist led by and for services supporting women from Black, minoritised and migrant communities have been under the threat of disappearing due to austerity measures, underfunding and unfair commissioning practices. It is critical to remember that these spaces are often the only safe haven for victims and survivors from these marginalised communities.
By spreading immigration controls into people’s everyday lives, women are pushed to the margins with limited or no options when escaping situations of abuse. A clear example of the government’s hostile agenda against migration was the exclusion of women with insecure immigration status from the 2021 Domestic Abuse Act’s protection and remedies. Over three years, the Step Up Migrant Women campaign, alongside other organisations, lobbied Parliament to ensure the Act would protect all women, irrespective of residency status. Nevertheless, despite the public, cross-party support, and the wealth of evidence on the urgency to protect these women, the government rejected life-saving amendments that would have ensured safety was always prioritised over immigration status. One year after the Act’s passing, we see the harms of this exclusion on women from our communities whose status or lack of it is weaponised by perpetrators to abuse them and used by statutory services to impede their access to support.
More recently, the government announced they would ratify the Istanbul Convention after ten years of delay. This convention is the gold standard treaty for tackling VAWG in Europe, and we would welcome the announcement were it not for the fact that migrant women will be left out. In their plan for ratification, the government has decided to abstain from meeting two articles, one on opening the possibility for victims and survivors of VAWG to regularise their immigration status independently from perpetrators. In recent weeks, we have worked with the IC Change campaign calling on the government to abandon the reservations and commit to safeguarding all victims and survivors.
This Refugee Week, we acknowledge that the last years have presented enormous challenges owing to government policy and legislative decisions based on cruelty: from Brexit to the Rwanda plan, from the #AntiRefugeeBill to the response to Covid-19, and currently, with the cost of living crisis and the increasing vulnerability of the women we support and our communities. However, even as the panorama looks grim, solidarity and hope give us the strength to continue campaigning for all women’s rights. The Step Up Migrant Women campaign has experienced such solidarity from faith based communities, from organisations providing emergency accommodation for survivors with no recourse to public funds to faith leaders supporting advocacy efforts to provide equal protections in legislation, as well as from others. However, there is a need to continue working together advocating for true social justice that recognises our shared humanity and the need to have systems based on equality and fairness for the protection of all women.
Despite the challenges and the government’s inhumanity towards refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, we are confident that the healing power will come from community organising. Different solidarity demonstrations have shown us that healing comes from people’s ability to oppose the harshness of the hostile environment.
 According to Imkaan, the VAWG Black and minoritised sector is currently working at a funding shortfall of 39%. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5f7d9f4addc689717e6ea200/t/616fd074665a2d2349bde2a2/1634717812655/Imkaan+CSR+Lttr+Representation_Signed+30.9.21.pdf