Migrant bill should deal with violence, say lobbyists

Pamela Duncan – The Irish Times 

AMENDMENTS DESIGNED to protect migrant women experiencing domestic violence should be included in the Immigration and Protection Bill, an Oireachtas committee heard yesterday.
Representatives of Women’s Aid, migrant network AkiDwA and the Immigrant Council of Ireland said migrant women were in a vulnerable position, as they were unlikely to leave an abusive relationship for fear of losing their immigration status. The Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality heard many migrant women came to Ireland as the spouse of a migrant worker – an entitlement dependent on the continued existence of the relationship.“A migrant woman whose legal residency is dependent on a violent spouse may stay in an abusive relationship rather than risk her right to live in Ireland,” Salome Mbugua of AkiDwA said.Monica Mazzone of Women’s Aid noted indigenous migrant women represented 13 per cent of service users of support groups – an over-representation in terms of the overall population – and that the majority were on a spouse-dependant visa, or were asylum seekers or refugees.
The council noted Irish law did not contain a domestic violence concession providing the right to an independent residence permit to those suffering domestic abuse. Catherine Cosgrave, a senior solicitor with the council, acknowledged the Minister for Justice did exercise discretion to grant residence permits in some cases and said this was on a case-by-case basis in the absence of any clear administrative guidelines. Senator Ivana Bacik, a committee member, said as Minister for Justice Alan Shatter was due to reintroduce the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010, there was now a chance for amendments to be introduced to protect such women. The committee heard from Gráinne O’Toole of Migrant Rights Centre Ireland who said forced labour needed to be established as a standalone offence here as opposed to one connected to human trafficking. She cited the recent UK case in which over 20 Britons and eastern Europeans were allegedly enslaved at a Traveller site. This followed legislation passed in 2009 making it an offence to hold a person in slavery or subject them to forced labour in England and Wales. Caitríona Gleeson of Safe Ireland said statistics released last week showed women and children suffering domestic violence could not access refuge on more than 3,000 occasions last year. She said a full and comprehensive policy review of Irish legislation and court procedures was needed to ensure greater accessibility and justice for victims. “Day after day predominantly men . . . are getting away with serious crimes against women in this country, and it has to end.”