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Last week, University of Birmingham SEREDA researchers and JustRight Scotland, together with partners from across the Refugee and Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) sectors wrote to all the main UK political parties to request commitments to forced migrant survivors of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) in upcoming party manifestos.

The letters, signed by Freedom from Torture, British Red Cross, Doctors of the World, Women’s Aid, Southall Black Sisters, Women for Refugee Women, and others, also called on the parties to rethink the Illegal Migration Bill, which has been passed by the House of Commons and will receive its second reading in the House of Lords on 10 May.

The coalition is concerned that the Bill, in its current form, will end what is left of asylum protection in the UK and exclude many victims of modern slavery from the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). These changes, while impacting all groups seeking sanctuary in the UK, will cause harm to survivors of SGBV who face additional vulnerabilities because of gender and previous adverse experiences.

Far from breaking the trafficker’s business model, the changes are likely to drive survivors further underground into the hands of traffickers and criminals. With no option of recourse to protection under NRM or the asylum system, survivors will have few options of escape and traffickers will operate with impunity.

Pip McKnight, Research and Impact Fellow (IRiS), University of Birmingham

Far from breaking the trafficker’s business model, the changes are likely to drive survivors further underground into the hands of traffickers and criminals. With no option of recourse to protection under NRM or the asylum system, survivors will have few options of escape and traffickers will operate with impunity.

Between 2018- 2022 the SEREDA project analysed the experiences of 89 forced migrant survivors of SGBV and 47 service providers across England, Scotland and Wales. The research found that incidents of SGVB can occur at multiple points of survivors’ journeys to Britain, including in Britain itself. These include rape, transactional sex, intimate partner violence, honour-based abuse, and sex trafficking. Often, Britain is not forced migrants’ original intended destination but the last stop on a long and brutal journey taken in the desperate hope of finding a safe haven.                                                                 

Using evidence from SEREDA, the coalition’s letters set out five pledges for politicians to include in their 2024 manifestos:

  • Commit to revising, proposals in the Illegal Migration Bill that renege on protections for forced migrants, replacing these policies with an asylum system that is compassionate, fair, and effective.
  • Commit to systems to better inform forced migrant survivors of their rights, entitlements, and protections under UK law.
  • Commit to increase funding for specialist services for forced migrant survivors of SGBV run by ‘for and by’ organisations.
  • Establish a firewall or system of secure reporting to make it safer for forced migrant survivors of SGBV with insecure immigration status to report crimes and abolish No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF).
  • Commit to extending the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession from three to six months and extend the Domestic Violence Rule to allow all partners (including unmarried partners) experiencing Domestic Abuse to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain.

By adopting these manifesto commitments, the hope is that we can start to look forward to rebuilding systems of protections that reduces survivor’s risk of further harm and allows them to recover from the trauma of SGBV in safety.

Pip McKnight, Research and Impact Fellow (IRiS), University of Birmingham