Legal or logistical advice for Spanish domestic violence victim?
July 20, 2010 2:20 AM   Subscribe

Short-term asylum for Spanish domestic violence victims fleeing to the UK, or related advice? Much more inside.

I am an American in Spain and have met a Spanish woman seeking information on legal aid and international asylum for victims of domestic violence.

In 2003, Max, who was then 47, left her husband after eight years of physical, psychological, and emotional abuse, when he began to hurt her children as well. She fled with her sons, then 6 and 12, and filed charges and a restraining order against her husband.

Her husband spent three days in jail before trial. The case went to fast trial for domestic violence (filed as civil, not criminal offense). He had a lawyer; she couldn't afford one. The judge sentenced her husband with a 1200 euro fine and a restraining order, which he broke the restraining order immediately on getting out of jail, threatening her and the children with a knife.

She fled with the children to Mexico (she was born in Mexico to a Spanish father and an American mother; at the time she had Mexican citizenship; she has since obtained Spanish nationality, so now has an EU passport, as do her children.) She stayed there for two years, selling used clothes in the marketplace and teaching English (which she speaks fluently) to survive. In 2005 she decided to return to Spain because she wanted her kids to have free education and health care -- they were barely surviving in Mexico.

On returning to Spain, she asked the authorities for help. They sent her to a battered woman's shelter several provinces away; she began looking for help. About a month later, her ex-husband found them and threatened to kill them all. She fled with the children to another province. Several years followed in which she would find work, begin to rebuild a life, only to be found again and flee again.

Her ex-husband has now begun sending people after them to threaten them; one evening her younger son was beaten in an alley with the threat that if he went to the authorities they'd cut off his mother and brother's hands.

The authorities tell her that her case is tragic but that they are unprepared to help her: the restraining order has expired, and they cannot offer her shelter or aid unless the order is renewed. Meanwhile, they cannot renew the order unless her husband actually threatens or harms them *in person*, rather than sending other people in his stead (they have no concrete proof that her husband is to blame for the most recent beatings and threats). Moreover, even if they were able to renew the order and offer her shelter, her children would no longer be eligible to receive aid along with her, because, at 13 and 19, they are now too old (the eligibility cutoff is 12.)

Max and the children are living on only 420 euros a month now, in constant fear of violence. She is desperate for help of any kind; and since the Spanish authorities have effectively washed their hands of her case, she is looking internationally. She has heard that the UK offers asylum for battered women, and is hoping to try to take the children with her there (again, all three of them have EU passports), but she has no contacts or support there. She is hoping to contact Asylum Aid but knows that they only help women who are already in the UK, and she is hesitant to leave the country with no money, no plan, and nowhere to go.

I have met and talked with Max and her sons, and I've seen her (very thick) file of paperwork pertaining to the case. They are a loving family and I sincerely believe that her story and her desperation real. I am hoping to help her contact Asylum Aid, but apart from that, I have no legal knowledge or advice to offer. I probably don't even know what relevant questions to ask her to determine her options. You are most likely not a lawyer either, but might you be able to suggest resources for her, or offer advice? Any information, general or specific, would be welcome.

Thanks, MeFi.
posted by collectallfour to Law & Government (16 answers total)
Within the EU, it's not really a question of asylum. If she can find a job (employed or self-employed), then she can live in another EU country (the UK included) for pretty much as long as she wants to.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:27 AM on July 20, 2010

If she can find a job (employed or self-employed)

She can move without finding a job. She just has to look for work (Article 15)
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 2:44 AM on July 20, 2010

Yeah, sorry. I didn't mean to imply that she'd need to find a job first, only that she'd need one in order to stay long-term. You get plenty of time (in the order of several months if I remember correctly) to find work.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:59 AM on July 20, 2010

Yup. EU Passport? Speaks English? There are no barriers to entry. The job situation is probably a lot better in the UK than Spain anyway: even if it isn't that great here, by all accounts it's appallingly bad there.

Note that the same applies to her ex-husband: he can travel (or send people) to the UK just as easily.
posted by pharm at 3:13 AM on July 20, 2010

NB: Speaking English isn't a requirement btw, but it will help enormously when applying for work!
posted by pharm at 3:13 AM on July 20, 2010

Is Max's husband also an EU citizen? If so, I'm not sure how he would be prevented from accessing them. Also, has Max considered changing her name to avoid being detected by this guy? I'm not sure how easy this is to do in Spain or the EU in general.
posted by mdonley at 3:16 AM on July 20, 2010

Sorry, ex-husband.
posted by mdonley at 3:16 AM on July 20, 2010

Best answer: She doesn't need asylum status to move anywhere in the EU. You don't need a lawyer to permanently move from Spain to the UK. You need a plane ticket.

This sounds like a dreadful situation and there are surely practical difficulties to moving, finding work, and staying safe, and if you're asking for help with those (or pointers to organizations that can help), then maybe other posters will chime in. But there are absolutely no legal barriers.
posted by caek at 3:17 AM on July 20, 2010

Shelter has advice on finding a women's refuge in the UK.

Note that there may not be space available: Demand sadly often exceeds supply.
posted by pharm at 3:18 AM on July 20, 2010

Her problem won't be coming to the UK, it'll be setting up her life here. She can just turn up on the UK and may be able to transfer her Spanish benefits here. Citizens Advice Bureau are a good source of information (
posted by plonkee at 4:14 AM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Her problem is not getting into the UK but sustaining herself and her children once she's there. She may or may not be able to transfer any benefits she gets in Spain but she can work. But I think it's unlikely she'll get refugee status as eu national!
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:55 AM on July 20, 2010

Apart from questions about asylum, shelter and the like, she should look into whether there are any options for hiding her identity when applying for housing, work, etc. It sounds like he's pretty adept at finding her, and stopping that from happening would help keep her more safe. There are some programs in the US that allow DV victims to apply for things while keeping their address secret.

At the far end of the spectrum would be changing her and her kid's names.
posted by Gorgik at 6:13 AM on July 20, 2010

In the UK you can call yourself whatever you like. There may be issues with getting bank accounts and the like in a new name that doesn't match the one on your passport if you're a foreign national though. If necessary, one can change one's name by deed poll.

Citizen's Advice, as usual, has some pertinent advice on the topic.

Indeed, one piece of advice I would give to the woman in question is to make a beeline for the nearest Citizen's Advice office as soon as she gets to the UK.
posted by pharm at 6:25 AM on July 20, 2010

(Possibly, some banks may not care about a mismatch between the name on the passport & the name on the account so long as they have a record of the passport details. I don't have any personal experience of trying to do this, but it can't hurt to ask!)
posted by pharm at 6:28 AM on July 20, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for your time and advice -- I´ll pass it on to her; I know she´ll appreciate it. I´ll post with any updates.
posted by collectallfour at 8:07 AM on July 20, 2010

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