Still human

Women Seeking Sanctuary Advocacy Group Wales receiving the Emma Humphreys Award.

I have spent the last few weeks working on a report which looks into the problems that asylum-seeking, refugee and migrant women encounter when they are experiencing violence. All women in violent relationships face barriers to exit: they may be financially dependent, they may be psychologically beaten down by continued abuse, they may be worried about the reaction when they leave. But for a minoritised non-citizen, there are many more barriers, and many of these relate to their legal status, and the Kafkaesqu bureaucracies erected around these.

Reports show that concerns about the public purse have over-ridden humane principles. The images are neo-Dickensian: a woman carrying a new-born baby home in the snow; another woman, dispersed in the 39th week of pregnancy giving birth in the street with no idea how to get to a hospital for help; a one-legged man with no prosthetic living in an apartment with no access except via a fire escape; parents so poor that they have to carry a baby along with its oxygen tank to hospital for primary care. Each scrutiny reveals more and more vulnerable subgroups: gays and lesbians, escaping violently homophobic cultures placed in shared housing with people who harass and rape them; trafficked women criminalised for the activities their traffickers forced them into.

Such poverty impacts horrendously upon the experiences of abused women. While the intolerable situation of destitute abused women with NRPF (which means they have no ability to claim benefits, and therefore no way to access housing or refuges) has been somewhat eased by the Domestic Violence Concession, this is counterweighted by a heavy burden of proof: this can be a catch-22 situation for women who have been precluded from accessing the services they need, partly by NRPF, and partly by a lack of awareness of their rights on both sides, and then need to get references from them to prove abuse and gain support.

Of course, like any good report, I and my co-authors will make practical recommendations to policy makers, but I can’t help but feel that the most significant problem is beyond our influence. And that is the often misguided beliefs, and the naked hostility expressed to immigrant communities, which policy makers have not only failed to challenge, but rather to actively collude developing mean-spirited policies in which human tragedies are seen as potential scams. The ‘Age of Austerity’ has been one of demonising the vulnerable from the disabled to the poor, where there is no misery or vulnerabilty that cannot be compounded. This is what needs to change: policy can only go so far when it is being built on such ugly attitudes.

The picture of WSSAG is doesn’t really illustrate the post, it’s just because they rock.

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