Campaign on the rights of woman survivors of violence and their children to access support and protection 


Help Improve Access to Services for Undocumented Women Survivors of Violence

As part of the Step Up! Campaign, PICUM and WAVE are coming together to improve access to services for undocumented women and women who have precarious immigration status.

Our goal is to make support services for gender-based violence accessible for all women, whatever their migration status. We will join forces with key women’s rights and migrant’ rights organisations in various European countries. For information about our national partners, click here.

Violence against undocumented women

Photo © PICUM: PICUM Working Group on Access to Justice for Undocumented Women, November 2016Most migrant women come to Europe with valid paperwork to reside or work in the country of residence. However, their permits are often dependent. This means that their permit to stay in a country often ties them to their employer or partner.

The lack of an independent work or residence permit and inflexible and restrictive visa regimes create particular challenges for migrant women. It increases their risk of violence or exploitation.

Survivors of violence whose immigration status is tied to an abusive spouse or employer, or who are undocumented, face not only the threat of repeated violence, but also the ever-present threat that their status will be used as a tool of intimidation and coercion.

For them reaching out for help can mean detention and deportation, separation from their children, the loss of their livelihood, their dignity.

Access to justice and services

Despite international human rights and women’s rights standards that guarantee access to protection and services for all, survivors of violence who are undocumented face major obstacles.

They face challenges to

  • Report violence and abuse safely: Going to the police in many cases puts them at risk of detention and deportation.
  • Access shelters safely: Women without status are often turned away from women’s shelters. Funding limitations expressly excluding undocumented women, and many facilities are poorly adapted to the needs of women from diverse communities.


A useful lexicon 

PICUM's terminology leaflet is available in 7 languages (click here to access them!). "It lists reasons why not to use the term ‘illegal migrant’ and instead the recognised ‘undocumented’ or ‘irregular’ migrant as well as it provides a lexicon with translations of the latter terms in all EU languages and an overview of key institutions who already committed to using fair terminology."

Strategy paper 

Click to view and download the strategy paper on the collaboration between WAVE and PICUM to improve access to services for undocumented migrant women, and women with precarious immigration status.

Pledge Your Support of the Core Principles of Our Campaign

1.  Women’s rights are human rights.
Every woman who has experienced violence should be able to access protection, support and services.

2.  Protection and safety come first. No woman should be turned away from a shelter because she lacks the valid paperwork. All women should be able to approach the justice system for help, with confidence and without fear.

3.  Give them a way out, a way forward. Migration laws and policies often create dependency and increase women’s risk of violence. Eradicating violence against women is not just about protection and support, it is also about ensuring their autonomy and agency.

4.  Solidarity against discrimination. Laws, policies and practices that limit migrant women’s access to services are discriminatory. This violates feminist values, and reflect institutionalised forms of discrimination that we must all reject.

 Now What? - Take the Next Step

  • Resist racism and the growing tendency to stigmatise and dehumanise migrants, recognising the gender dimension and impact of prevailing rhetoric and policies on migration.

  • Join the struggles of migrant women and embrace an intersectional agenda, and empower undocumented women by supporting their cause and their rights, and well as their efforts to organise and to mobilise.

  • Engage in human rights education to raise awareness of the situation of migrant women, and women facing intersecting forms of discrimination, and to promote ways of better supporting their rights and their needs in practice.
Governmental Authorities
  • Put women’s rights ahead of immigration control. Create a ‘firewall’, a clear separation between immigration enforcement measures and the provision of basic services (such as housing, health care, specialist services, law enforcement) required to ensure women’s safety and autonomy, promote their confidence in public institutions and encourage the reporting of violence.

  • Ensure adequate funding to organisations providing support to survivors of violence, and create mechanisms for more inclusive and non-discriminatory funding not linked to migration or other status.

  • Create legal avenues for women to obtain, or to retain, residence status so that being or becoming undocumented is not a barrier to safety.

  • Decriminalise the provision of assistance to undocumented migrants.

  • Take steps to increase the diversity of the workforce (including public services) so that it better represents the population that it serves.
Migrant Rights Organisations

Empower women’s organisations to provide quality and equitable services to all women, and ensure that they are informed of the specific challenges faced by undocumented women.

Women's Organisations, Shelters, and Service Providers
  • Collaborate with migrant-led organisations that work directly with migrant women.

  • Develop and promote an ethics of care that integrates feminist principles with ethical imperatives to ensure inclusiveness and to promote greater solidarity.

  • Join forces to challenge the prevailing structures that go against your core values by dictating to whom you can open your doors.

  • Employ women of diverse backgrounds, and train your staff to be knowledgeable about and sensitive to the situation and needs of migrant women.