This week the government published its new Violence Against Women & Girls (VAWG) Strategy, following an extensive period of public consultation. During the consultation, we expressed our concern that previous strategies spanning the last decade have repeatedly failed to reference the specific needs of women seeking asylum. We are deeply disappointed to see that the new strategy continues this trend as it fails to mention women seeking asylum at all, and only makes a brief reference to the needs of migrant women.
The Refugee Council has worked for many years to improve the government’s response to violence against women and girls in the asylum system. Women seeking asylum are more likely to have experienced gender-based violence because of their experience of persecution and conflict. In addition to the increased risk of gender based violence, women seeking asylum face specific barriers in disclosing violence or abuse and in accessing specialist support services.
The new Strategy states that ‘The safety of women and girls across the country is our priority’, and whilst it contains a number of welcome initiatives focusing on increasing prevention, improved support for victims, and strengthening the ‘system’, the failure to recognise the particular issues facing women seeking asylum leaves them excluded from many of the new initiatives and exposed to continued risk of violence or abuse.
The only mention of Migrant Women in the new strategy covers the launch of the ‘Support for Migrant Victims’ pilot scheme to provide support for migrant victims of domestic abuse who do not have access to public funds. The government intend to use the results of this pilot to inform future policy.
In the autumn, the Government are due to publish a new Domestic Abuse Strategy to accompany the VAWG strategy. We hope the Domestic Abuse strategy reflect the concerns we raised in our consultation response and make specific reference to the needs of women seeking asylum.
Andy Hewett, Head of Advocacy at the Refugee Council said:
“It is bitterly disappointing that women seeking asylum are yet again completely absent from the government’s strategy to address violence against women and girls. This represents a huge missed opportunity to recognise the specific support needs of this highly vulnerable group. Any strategy to address violence against women and girls needs to include all women and girls. Sadly, the new strategy fails to do this and leaves women seeking asylum exposed to continued risk of violence and abuse”.