Additional risks for women victims of domestic abuse whose immigration status depends on the perpetrator
Migrant women who are victims of domestic abuse face additional challenges, especially if their immigration status depends on the abuser, said the Immigrant Council of Ireland today, 7.12.17. The organisation is speaking out on cases it has processed so far in 2017 as part of the international UN-sponsored 16 Days of Action Opposing Violence Against Women.
Brian Killoran, CEO of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, said: “This year the Immigrant Council worked with at least 21 women victims of domestic abuse whose immigration status depended on the perpetrator. The big fear these women have when they come to us is that if they report the abuse they will lose their right to stay in Ireland, where they have built their lives. Many of them have children and are depending on the abuser for financial support because their immigration status does not allow them to work, making it even more difficult for women to leave the abusive situation.
“We know from the cases we have seen since we opened 16 years ago that immigration status is used as part of the arsenal of abuse, for example isolating the victim from family and friends by saying theirs is the only relationship which offers ‘security’ to the victim.
“Immigration rules, which make one person’s immigration permission dependent on the activities and cooperation of their partner or spouse, are often exploited by perpetrators of abuse. The abuse can include a refusal by the perpetrator to share essential documents or corroborate evidence if they have them in their possession, or threats to report any potential change in relationship status to the authorities, all of which place an individual in fear of becoming undocumented or being removed from the country.
“As one woman escaping abuse told us: ‘He’s the EU national, he has all the power.’”
Mr Killoran added, “What many of these women do not know is that since 2012, victims of domestic abuse whose immigration status is dependent on their spouse or partner are eligible for independent status. However the system is not perfect – it is discretionary, there is a €300 registration fee and many victims do not know they are eligible.
“Asylum seeking women living in direct provision also have some protections if they disclose the abuse. They can apply to Reception and Integration Agency for a transfer if there is evidence of abuse and can apply also for a Barring Order which can result in the perpetrator being transferred to another direct provision centre.
“However these women need better safeguards. During these 16 days of international activism we would like to see improved policies supporting victims of domestic abuse including more straightforward access to social protection services including access to refuges or rent supplement as required and free legal aid.”
Case study: Florence
Florence* was from Cameroon and had come to Ireland as a student. She married a man here and her immigration permission changed to be dependent on their ongoing relationship. Shortly after the birth of their second child her husband became incredibly violent towards her. He then abandoned her and the two children, penniless and with rent overdue. As part of his abuse, he had not allowed her to have her identity documents, so her immigration status had expired and she was without legal permission to be in Ireland.
She was exhausted and terrified. Luckily her landlord was sympathetic to her plight so was not pressuring her for rent, but that could not go on forever. Marks in the shape of her husband’s fingers could clearly be seen on her arms. She had no money at all for food for herself or her children and was desperate. She had gone to her Community Welfare Officer but had been told because of her lack of immigration permission she couldn’t get support.
The Immigrant Council took on her case and started to address her immigration status, asking the immigration authorities to issue her with independent status based on her situation and the abuse she had endured. The courage it took for her to agree to allow us to do that on her behalf was immense as the decision is discretionary so we could not promise it would be successful. During this period any money she could get she spent on food and nappies for her children, going without to ensure they were cared for.
Luckily for Florence and her children, her immigration issues were ultimately resolved and she got her status back.
Sadly, however, Florence is just one of many women facing these circumstances. We worry how many other Florences are out there, unable to access services which can help – how many are penniless, without stable immigration status and in dire circumstances right now? How many need a support worker to source emergency funds or to articulate a difficult case to the immigration authorities? This is the reality and one that we must all rise to meet, as civil society organisations and as a country.
*Florence’s name has been changed to protect her identity
Note to editors
The Immigrant Council of Ireland supports women to make applications to stay in Ireland independently of their spouse’s immigration status and supports them throughout the process. Of the 21 cases presented, so far five have been successful, with the applicant being granted independent status, six are awaiting a decision, one was refused and three did not wish to proceed further for a variety of reasons. Seven other women sought information only.
Anyone seeking information should call the Immigrant Council of Ireland on 01 674 0200 between 10am and 1pm, Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
Pippa Woolnough, Immigrant Council of Ireland,
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 085 8640682