Joint working leads to free legal support for victims of domestic abuse
Our South Ribble and Chorley women's refuges have been working with Ashwood Solicitors Limited, which has offices in Manchester and Blackburn, to offer specialist Legal Aid to women escaping domestic abuse whose situations are further complicated by immigration matters, including Asylum claims, certain domestic violence issues and matters relating to unaccompanied minors.
One family that Chorley and South Ribble women's refuge and Ashwood has assisted is Rebecca and her children. Rebecca and her family stayed at South Ribble and Chorley women's refuges recently.
Rebecca came into the country with her two children after a forced marriage in Pakistan. She was unaware that her British husband had previously been married and already had children. She was also unaware that he was known to UK police for various offences, some serious.
He told Rebecca that he had his own home and a job, so Rebecca was determined to make the most of her marriage and was looking forward to coming to the UK.
Upon arrival, the reality of her situation was very different from what had been promised. Her husband did not have his own house and lived with his extended family. He also did not work and had been previously married, and was not allowed to see his children due to legal proceedings.
Rebecca's life in the UK went from bad to worse. She was physically and emotionally abused and expected to wait hand and foot on her extended family. She and her children were expected to live in one room without a door on it, so they had no privacy.
Her husband told her that she would be sent back to Pakistan if she told anyone that no one would believe her.
Rebecca knew that this wasn't right and called social services. They were able to get Rebecca and the children safely out, and they were offered a place in Clare House women's refuge in South Ribble.
Once settled, the employees at Chorley and South Ribble women's refuges got in touch with Ashwood Solicitors, who offer specialised immigration advice, and they were able to help Rebecca regularise her immigration status and eventually get Indefinite Leave to Remain. Rebecca was then able to start training courses and settle her children into nursery and school. She was also able to access safe housing in an area where she felt safe.
Liz Stanton, Manager for the South Ribble and Chorley women's refuges, said: "We are so grateful to Ashwood Solicitors for supporting and guiding the families who stay with us. Not only have they helped the women with legal guidance at no cost, but they have reduced the time they have had to wait for legal proceedings such as the right to stay in the UK. Because of this, we have been able to help more women and their families who thought they couldn't access legal support."
Masoud Kasim, Managing Director of Ashwood Solicitors Limited, said: "Access to justice is so important, and sadly, over the past 12 months, we have seen an increasing number of referrals where women have suffered domestic abuse.
"Quite often, the women do not speak English as their first language, and they are not familiar with the law and their rights. So, I am immensely proud of our Immigration team, who have achieved great results for some of the most vulnerable people in society."
If you, or someone you know, is a victim of domestic abuse or violence and requires emergency safe accommodation and specialist support, you can call the 24-hour South Ribble and Chorley domestic abuse helpline for free, confidential advice seven days a week on 01772 435865.
A text line is available between 10 am and 4 pm, Monday to Friday on 07790971237. A live chat is also available at www.clarehouselancashire.org.uk as an alternative way to ask for help should someone not be able to call or feel that it's not safe to call the 24/7 helpline.