Building the road to justice and equality for undocumented women

PICUM Advocacy Officer Alyna Smith recently took part in a webinar organised by the Women in Development Europe, WIDE+, to discuss why undocumented women are at risk of violence and what we can do to prevent it and ensure they can access justice safely.

Undocumented women and women with a precarious status are at greater risk of being subjected to violence as they have very limited options to ask for help.

Migrant women with spouse-dependent residence status are often not able to leave an abusive partner without risking becoming irregular, being detained and ultimately deported.

Women without a residence permit are equally unable to safely report violence, as public authorities too often prioritise pursuing people because of their irregular status rather than ensuring their safety.

This is why PICUM advocates for a “firewall”, that is a mechanism which allows undocumented people, including women, to access public services without the involvement of immigration enforcement. When firewalls are in place, public authorities can provide safe access to shelters and justice to undocumented women victims of violence and can ensure that the perpetrators are held accountable.


Safe reporting is being increasingly recognised as smart policing by public authorities around the world:

  • In the UK, in 2018, the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) announced a policy to promote safe reporting, recognising that lack of trust among undocumented people is harmful to effective law enforcement;
  • In the Netherlands, in 2016, the government rolled out a national policy to encourage safe reporting, based on a pilot project which was run Amsterdam.
  • In the USA and Canada local authorities (called “sanctuary cities”) have established policies limiting cooperation with immigration enforcement officials, therefore creating safe spaces for undocumented people to report crime and abuse.


In contrast, harsher migration policies which are focused on detention and deportations prevent undocumented women from seeking help against violence. Such policies have a detrimental impact not only on women’s wellbeing but also on their safety and further reinforce gender-based inequalities. In fact, harsh migration policies often intersect with narratives which are hostile to the EU, internationalism, human rights and women’s rights more generally.

To fight against these policies, PICUM is working with a broad array of partners at the EU and global levels, including Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE), the European Coalition to End Violence against Women and the Women in Migration Network (WIMN).

Our intervention was part of a broader webinar on “Counter Voices of migrant, including refugee and undocumented, Women against neo-right Populism and other threats in Europe”, which was moderated by Jelena Hrnjak, Programme manager at NGO Atina (Serbia).

Further speakers included Anna Zobnina from the European Network of Migrant Women (ENoMW), Jennifer Kamau, co-initiator of the International Women Space, and Sodfa Daaji from the Afrika Youth Movement. Our intervention is available here.

You can watch our intervention below (recording starts at 1:15 min).


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