Migrants Are People Too!
When I was 17, I had to leave my home because of the Iranian revolution in 1979. I spent the next 44 years, the best years of my life, travelling across five countries and two continents searching for peace, protection and a better life. In that time I witnessed two revolutions, civil wars in Iraq and Kurdistan, lost beloved people, suffered crimes and injustices and met many harmful and dangerous people. But, wherever I moved I was also able to make friends who became like my family. I fought shoulder to shoulder with them for justice before being forced to move on … again.
I know what pain it is to live in exile, being treated like a second class citizen, facing unkind looks and feeling unwelcome. But I also found kindness, friendship and support, and finally I got the opportunity to settle down and thrive.
That’s my story. I was a migrant in the 1990s, but let me explain what migrant women are facing today - here in the UK.
Changes to the Nationality and Borders Bill that make it much tougher for migrant women to settle here, and cuts to Britain’s humanitarian aid overseas, are clear signals that the situation for refugees and migrants living in Britain is getting worse.
After decades of being blamed for all kinds of economic and social failings, refugees and migrants have a very negative reputation in the UK. Every day we see and hear the abuse that is thrown at them, and Government rhetoric seems determined to keep stoking that fire to distract from years of policy shortcomings.
Now, the Domestic Abuse Bill going through Parliament is another struggle for migrant women to bear.
Initially, the Bill was praised as a chance to strengthen measures that focus on the perpetrators of domestic abuse. And, that is true - if you are a full citizen of the United Kingdom. But as migrant women have not been included, the Bill exposes some of the country’s most vulnerable women to no protection whatsoever.
Thousands of migrant women live, marry, have children, and work in Britain … they pay their taxes. But because their settlement status remains undecided - often for many, many years - they are defined as ‘un-documented’ or ‘non-citizens. We need only look at the experiences of the Windrush Generation.
This Bill, as it stands, treats migrant women as aliens, people to be ignored. That leaves perpetrators free to continue abusing them. For the Government to put all its focus on a woman’s immigration status before offering help, is shameful and wrong.
It’s difficult enough to get women to speak up about abuse. This Bill will not encourage any woman with an unsettled immigration status to seek help. In such cases the perpetrator/s win.
There should be no dividing women into pigeon holes: citizens and non-citizens, migrants and non-migrants. If any woman needs help escaping her abuser/s it should be given, no question.
We have another chance to do what’s right as we discuss the issues in a Government-led ‘domestic violence pilot project’. Its recommendations could become amendments to the Bill. However, there are still huge challenges to overcome:
How to get the police, social services and other state agencies to see these women as victims first, rather than women without the right paperwork.
How to ensure Legal Aid is available to them so they have advocates to speak on their behalf.
How to make sure the levels of ‘proof of abuse’ are the same for all women, not made tougher for migrant women.
We, like many charities, are fighting hard to maintain our resources so we can help women at a grassroots level. So, we need to be very clear in our message.
We, as a society, must not tolerate modern slavery
Migrants must not be blamed for Britain’s economic crisis.
They are not responsible for our failing welfare system, the crumbling NHS, the housing crisis or for savage benefit cuts.
Migrant women are not numbers or pieces of paper but human beings.
They, like all women living in the UK, must have the same basic rights to be safe.
Like most people, migrants are victims of the system as it stands. They have more in common with the average British citizen than people like to think. Instead, of vilifying them, we should all be standing together to fight inequality wherever we find it.
Founder & Executive Director, MEWSo