Tomorrow, the European Parliament will vote on a report calling for action to protect undocumented women migrants in Europe. Through the fog of technical language, two important recommendations stand out.
First, the report recommends that the 28 EU countries disconnect the prosecution of violence against undocumented women from immigration control so that victims can safely report crimes. The nature of domestic violence makes it incredibly hard for survivors to seek help. It’s even harder if instead of protecting you from violence, police check your immigration papers and treat you as a criminal.
Human Rights Watch documented the consequences of Belgium’srequirement that police report undocumented women to immigration authorities. Gisele M., for example, was a Brazilian woman who overstayed her visa. Her partner beat her regularly. After he stabbed her in the neck with a fork, Gisele finally went to the police for help. But they didn’t arrest her partner or investigate the case. Instead, they demanded her papers. Because she didn’t have them with her, Belgian police took her home to get her passport before they were willing to take her to the hospital. Many other women never make it to the police in the first place, out of fear of deportation.
Secondly, the report encourages EU countries to ease access to state-run domestic violence shelters by waiving the requirement of showing immigration documents. A leading organization on migrant rights, the Platform for Undocumented Migrants in Europe (PICUM) has reported on how, in several European countries, shelters deny access to undocumented women because they require valid residence permits. In Belgium, some shelter workers said they turned away women without papers due to funding restrictions.
Tomorrow, the European Parliament should send a clear message to EU governments: all women have a right to be protected from violence, regardless of immigration status.