The UK government has been criticised for failing to protect migrant women from perpetrators of domestic abuse, as the UK moves to finally ratify the Istanbul convention after a 10-year delay, while reserving a key article.
The 2011 Istanbul convention, also known as the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, is legally binding and sets out minimum standards that European countries should have in their legislation.
Although the UK signed the convention in 2012, the government has only just announced that it plans to ratify it by the end of July, which means that more than 10 years on the UK remains one of the only countries in Europe to have failed to do so.
Other countries that have ratified and implemented the convention include France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Sweden.
The UK government has decided to reserve article 59 of the convention, which requires states to grant residence to survivors whose immigration status depends on an abusive partner, a reservation that has been criticised by a coalition of more than 80 women’s organisations.
In an open letter addressed to the home secretary, Priti Patel, by IC Change on Monday, the coalition said the decision would “deny migrant women survivors lifesaving support” and “reinforces the power of the perpetrators and increases the risk faced by migrant survivors”.
The government said it had reserved article 59 because the matter is under review pending the conclusion and evaluation of a short-term pilot of the Support for Migrant Victims scheme.
But Southall Black Sisters, who lead the pilot, have said that the results should have no bearing on whether article 59 is included as they have different focuses.
Hannana Siddiqui, the head of policy and research at Southall Black Sisters, said that the government’s decision creates a “two-tier system where some migrant victims are not afforded the same protection from domestic abuse than non-migrant victims, as the fear of deportation prevents many from leaving abusive relationships.
“This would also render any long-term legal reform giving benefits or support to these victims ineffective, as women may not come forward to access support if they do not have the right to settlement too.”
A government spokesperson said: “Anyone who has suffered domestic abuse must be treated as a victim first and foremost, regardless of immigration status.
“The Istanbul convention will still be ratified, but we are evaluating our approach to supporting migrant victims of domestic abuse and will make a final decision on article 59 once that is concluded. However, this does not affect victims’ ability to get support and regularise their stay here, and we have recently provided an additional £1.4m for migrant victims of domestic abuse.”