Amnesty International has welcomed an announcement by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, that she will further extend the pilot scheme of offering assistance to women with insecure immigration status who are victims of violence in the UK.
The scheme provides up to 40 days’ funding and access to a refuge and specialised support to victims of violence who have no recourse to public funds. Amnesty say it has served as a lifeline to the most vulnerable women in the UK. It was expected to end in March 2010.
The coalition Conservative-Liberal Democrat government initially agreed to extend the trial until September but May, who is also Minister for Women and Equality, has now gone further and said that the Government will “commit to funding the scheme until the end of this financial year [March 2011] and to finding a long-term solution to ensure women are protected after that”.
May said that this was something “too important not to do”.
The decision has been heralded as another major campaigning success by organisations in the women and human rights sector, including Amnesty International and Southall Black Sisters. Amnesty says that the challenge now is to ensure that the government stands behind its commitment.
“We are very pleased that the coalition government has agreed to continue this vital, life-saving scheme,” said Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK.
She said that she was “delighted” with May's announcement. But she added, “We now urge the government to stand behind its commitment and to ensure that its long-term solution is one which provides the highest level of protection, not only for the limited group covered by the existing pilot, but for all women who have no recourse to public funds”.
Women in the UK who are on spousal visas, international student visas and temporary work permits have no recourse to public funds and so prior to the scheme were not able to access specialist services or secure a place in a refuge if they needed it. As a result, hundreds of women were left destitute or trapped in a cycle of violence.
The pilot scheme so far only applies to spouses but Amnesty says it has already provided vital access to safety and security that they would not otherwise have had.
“For too long women's groups have had to campaign and lobby for what is in fact already a human rights obligation,” said Allen, “All the while women's lives were at risk. This has been a long time coming.”