Examination of Witness

Domestic Abuse Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 4th June 2020.

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Gilmara Garcia gave evidence.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North 2:03 pm, 4th June 2020

Q 44 Thank you very much for coming in to give evidence this afternoon. Could you introduce yourself to the Committee? Then we will allow people to ask questions of you.

Gilmara Garcia:

First, thank you for inviting me. My name is Gilmara Garcia, and I am here to share my experiences.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

Thank you very much for introducing yourself.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Thank you very much for coming in. I am just going to ask you a few questions about your experiences of the system. What are the main barriers that you have faced in getting the support that you may have needed?Q

Gilmara Garcia:

The main barriers were the system and safe reporting, because I have not had it when I needed it most.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q Tell us a little about your experiences and what led you to need to report.

Gilmara Garcia:

I came four years ago to the UK as part of a family—me, my former partner and two children. After eight months of living with him, I was already experiencing emotional and verbal abuse, and then he exerted himself physically. My first action was to flee the property straightaway to the police station. That was the beginning of a huge nightmare. I am still improving my language, but at that time it was worse. I came four years ago, as I said.

Gilmara Garcia:

Brazil.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q When you came over, what visa did you come in on?

Gilmara Garcia:

We came—four Brazilians—but my former partner had held a British passport. When we were settled, he said, “I will renew my British passport. I will make our young child British. Then I will apply for you.” That was the promise. Four of us Brazilians came; two of the family became British.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q But you came to the country completely legally?

Gilmara Garcia:

Completely legally, yes.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q Tell us about how you tried to get help when your abuse started to happen in the UK.

Gilmara Garcia:

At first when it started, it was emotional abuse. I did not understand that it was wrong. I wanted to try to make things right, but when the physical abuse happened, I realised that something was wrong and that I needed help. I had been told, “Let’s go there to visit. After that we will remain, and I will apply with you as my dependant.” That never happened. Six months later, my tourist visa expired and I became undocumented. At that point, things increased.

Gilmara Garcia:

He said, “I will report you if you don’t follow my rules. You will be returned to your country. Forget about our daughter, because now she is British.”

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q Just so that we have the story right, you came here with a partner who had promised you that you would settle here and that your status would become settled. He began to abuse you. He settled his status and the status of your daughter, then he used the fact that you were unsettled to abuse you and control you.

Gilmara Garcia:

Exactly.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

What happened when you tried to get help?

Gilmara Garcia:

It happened. The first phrase toward me was—[Interruption.] Just a minute. It does not matter how many times we repeat the same story—first of all, to prove who we are, and, after that—

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

You take as long as you need.

Gilmara Garcia:

I went to request help, and they said, “We cannot help you.”

Gilmara Garcia:

A police officer—We cannot help you because we don’t have responsibility for you.” I showed what had happened to me and explained that I did not have any place to go. The police officer turned to me and said, “We are not a hotel. I cannot provide accommodation for you and your eldest.” I was with my eldest child from a previous marriage. When the perpetrator came and shared his side of the story, the approach changed. He shared the same story, with some differences. I was asked, “Where is your document?” I said, “In my bag.” The police officer said, “I can see here that it has expired. We cannot help you at all. You need to go to immigration and your embassy.”

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q So you went as a victim of domestic abuse and the police told you that there would be no accommodation for you and that, because your status was unsettled, you actually now had to just go to your embassy, even though you had reported to them as a victim of violence.

Gilmara Garcia:

Yes, remembering that I came to England and I went straightaway to the countryside. So, first of all, I had no immigration. How was I to seek any support as a homeless person in London. Anyway, the perpetrator said to the police officers, “No worries, I can pay her one night, but tomorrow she cannot come back to the property.” The police just brought that response to me: that they would provide a lift to the Travelodge hotel—I don’t know if I can say the name, but anyway. And then, the next day, I went to the primary school of my kids to say, “I’m leaving. My youngest is staying. Please, when I send an email, answer me how she is, because I need to come back to my country.” After all, that was the suggestion to myself.

Gilmara Garcia:

The headteacher at that school provided me with the fare to get to London. I went straightaway to London Bridge to the Home Office they have there. They did not know what to do. They said, “We need seven days for you to come back to your country. Where will you be?” After all, it was me and these vulnerable people with me. I was the entire day in the building.

After that, I was with the Metropolitan police. The first officer—thank God—came and said, “What are you doing here?” I tried to explain—it was more mimicking than speaking, but still she understood me—and she contacted a support worker who goes around to homeless people in the night. She put me in a hostel to spend the night and said the next day, “Please go to the embassy and seek help. But before that, try to secure a place to sleep the next night.” When I fled, it was the middle of December and being rough in that period is not a good memory at all.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

Jess, I have a few more Members. Do you mind if I see a couple of others and return to you?

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities)

Actually, before I say anything, I would like to hear the witness continue to respond to hon. Members. Her story is important, and it is important that we hear it.Q

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q We only have a short space of time, and we need to make sure that those of us who have to scrutinise the Bill get the message about what needs to change in it. So you had to sleep rough in London—is that what you are saying?

Gilmara Garcia:

Yes.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

So you slept rough with your children?

Gilmara Garcia:

Child.

Gilmara Garcia:

Now, nearly twelve—nine or so at the time.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q Was that because you were not able to access any support because of your immigration status?

Gilmara Garcia:

No one knew what to do with me. The police did not know what to do. They just suggested that I go to the Home Office. When I got to the Home Office, they said, “We have no accommodation. We need seven days to prepare your ticket; then you can come back.” That was my decision in that moment—to come back where I feel safe. And I couldn’t.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

So you were left to sleep rough on the streets of London. I will let other people come in; I just wanted to set the scene.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

This will have to be the last question.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities)

Q Now your situation has changed. Would it have been different if you had had recourse to public funds, and do you now have recourse to public funds?

Gilmara Garcia:

Definitely. Every time, I repeat that if, in the first beginning, the process follows with a safety report, everything will be different. It is now four years later, and I am still suffering the consequences.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

Order. I am really sorry, but that has brought us to the end of this session. On behalf of the Committee, I thank you very much for coming in and giving your evidence. I know it is difficult in such a constrained time, but you gave the Committee a lot of helpful information. Thank you.