Forced migration, sexual and gender-based violence and COVID-19

The “Forced migration, SGBV and COVID-19” research project was initiated in response to conversations with Refugee Women Connect and anecdotal information suggesting that forced migrant survivors’ suffering increased in the COVID-19 crisis. We interviewed 97 survivors and organisations in five countries, 33 of which were in the UK. This policy brief focuses on the UK findings.

Executive summary of the report

  • The COVID-19 crisis exacerbated the suffering of the most vulnerable groups of forced migrants – the survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), with women worst affected.
  • Forced migrant survivors with irregular immigration status and No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) were excluded from healthcare, emergency accommodation and practical support, increasing their exposure to violence.
  • Loss of income increased food and hygiene insecurity, and vulnerability to violence and exploitation, whilst social isolation undermined survivors’ mental health and wellbeing.
  • In the light of these findings, we urge policymakers to consider the following recommendations:
    • Ensure forced migrant survivors of SGBV have the resources required to stay safe and meet their basic needs by increasing asylum support payments by £20 per week, in line with universal credit, and urgently ensure Wi-Fi is available in all asylum accommodation.
    • Revoke NRPF to forced migrant survivors of violence in need of protection regardless of their legal status and give them access to social welfare and domestic violence refuges.
    • Cease the reporting of immigration status in healthcare and other public services to reduce the public health and personal risks.
    • Prioritise safety for survivors regardless of their legal status by increasing funds for NGOs.

Download the full briefing 

Contact the authors

Sandra Pertek and Jenny Phillimore, University of Birmingham

Pip McKnight, Refugee Women Connect

Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRiS)