Trapped with your abuser: How the Home Office fails domestic violence victims
When one asylum seeker tried to escape her abuser recently, she told the Home Office that under no circumstances were they to contact her at her address. Doing so would notify her partner that she was trying to escape. The Home Office contacted her at the address anyway.
It's not malevolence. It's just the distracted, incompetent way the Home Office conducts itself when it comes to asylum. Elsewhere, the British government has an honourable record on domestic violence. It expanded the definition at home and pursued the agenda abroad. But asylum is a blind spot.
Today's report from the joint committee on human rights highlights the dangers facing women in the asylum system, including the culture of disbelief harnessed against them by officials. Women arrive having been tortured and raped in their home country, to be greeted by an unfriendly male official intent on rejecting their application. But just as pernicious is the failure to protect those who face domestic violence once they're in the UK.
At the heart of the problem is the separate benefit system for asylum seekers. There's never been any need for this nor any benefit which emerges from it. It's now a clear and present danger to the safety of women.
The women in the most danger are those who receive asylum support – the tiny payments given each week to those awaiting an asylum decision – but not accommodation, and those who are claiming asylum but not claiming any financial support at all.
Very often women select this route because they are living with their partner. If this relationship turns violent, the woman is left with no safe haven.
For those outside of Home Office accomodation, there is nothing to keep them safe. For those with Home Office accomodation, government guidance claims they should be able to use refuges. This doesn't happen. It is a fiction. Asylum seekers don't get access to refuges because they're not entitled to benefits.
Once a woman puts in an application for support, the process usually takes weeks. If she's lucky, she'll have a friend to stay with. Many do not. She will be faced with an unenviable decision: live on the streets or return to her abuser. It is the only choice the government has left her.
Sometimes, people don't take asylum accommodation because they don't want to be dispersed somewhere they've never been before. Instead they opt to stay with people they know. These relationships can also often become exploitative. And once again, if they do, there is no safe haven for them.
These blind spots in the government's approach to domestic violence are not random. They exist because asylum seekers are not considered a priority. It would not take much to protect asylum seekers from domestic violence. But evidently it is more than we are prepared to do.