A woman who was abandoned in Pakistan by her British husband and forcibly separated from her two-year-old daughter has won a high court case against such practice.
In a landmark ruling, a judge found that women in her situation have been unlawfully discriminated against and should be allowed to return to the UK.
The case highlighted a practice known as transnational marriage abandonment. Women who come to the UK on a spouse visa and marry a British man sometimes end up being deceived into returning to their country of birth – often Pakistan, India or Bangladesh – and having their travel documents confiscated before being abandoned.
It is believed that hundreds of women are affected by transnational marriage abandonment, which has been defined by the courts as a form of domestic abuse. Women who fall victim have often been subjected to other abuse by their husbands prior to being dumped abroad.
The Home Office has been reviewing the issue since 2016 but had not come to a conclusion by the time of the high court challenge.
The 31-year-old woman who brought the case, referred to as AM, was subjected to severe financial, physical, emotional, sexual and domestic abuse that left her with long-term health problems. She had married her husband in 2017 and arrived in the UK that December. She gave birth to the couple’s British daughter in December 2018.
After being deceived into visiting Pakistan with her husband and their then two-year-old daughter in January 2021, she was abandoned by him the following month when he returned to the UK with thegirl.
After an eight-month separation from her daughter, she was allowed to return to the UK and reunite with her. But some women are stranded in the country in which they are abandoned and separated from their children for many years.
She said she was particularly devastated when her young daughter started calling her “auntie” because of the enforced separation.
The woman welcomed the high court ruling and told the Guardian: “I am happy. There are many cases like mine. I read that a few women tried to come back and their children don’t want to live with their mother because they were told by their father ‘that lady has left you’. I can’t imagine how it feels that our children don’t want to live with us, when we were not responsible for leaving them. It was their father who was responsible. Those women, they should have rights to come back here quickly.
“Without a case like this, these husbands would think they have power to do anything. They think they can leave us anytime and do what they want with us.”
The woman’s solicitor, Nath Gbikpi, of Islington Law Centre, said: “For too long, the lack of a re-entry route for victims of transnational marriage abandonment has been used as a loophole by abusers. They knew that so long as they managed to get them out of the UK, they could prevent their spouses from returning and, by so doing, prevent them from accessing the UK criminal, family and immigration system.
“The findings of the high court mean that the Home Office will need to facilitate victims’ re-entry to the UK, finally putting an end to the impunity enjoyed by abusers to date.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Anyone who has suffered domestic abuse must be treated as a victim first and foremost, regardless of immigration status.
“We regularly deal with complex cases of transnational marriage abandonment and have previously granted victims a short period of entry clearance to the UK to enable them to access in-country support and apply for a permanent visa.
“We note the Court’s judgment and are now considering how to implement it at the earliest opportunity.”