- Domestic Abuse Commissioner critical of government failure to offer safe reporting mechanisms for migrant victims of domestic abuse
- Government rejected recommendation to create a ‘firewall’ to enable migrant victims to safely report domestic abuse to police without fear of being reported to immigration authorities
- Decision plays into hands of perpetrators who threaten victims with deportation if they report their abuse to the police
- Dangerous perpetrators will continue to evade justice if their victims cannot safely report says “extremely disappointed” Nicole Jacobs adding that it could cost lives
- Commitment to provide support to victims who come forward is a promising development, but sufficient funding must be allocated and this doesn’t go far enough to reassure victims.
Victims’ safety must be put ahead of their immigration status, says the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, as she criticises the Government’s decision not to create a firewall which would have allowed survivors to safely report domestic abuse without fear of deportation.
Nicole Jacobs said: “I am extremely disappointed with today’s decision and very concerned that the measures put forward today will be inadequate when it comes to keeping migrant victims of domestic abuse safe from perpetrators and free from the risk of being deported for reporting their abuse.”
Today’s report by the Home Office follows a super complaint submitted against both the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and the Home Office by Liberty and charity Southall Black Sisters in December 2018.
The complaint concerned the sharing of victim and witness data to the Home Office by the police for immigration enforcement purposes and a perceived culture of police prioritising immigration enforcement over safeguarding and the investigation of crime.
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner – along with many specialist domestic abuse services – had been working closely with the Home Office as they conducted their review following the super complaint.
She said it was her conclusion (and those working within the domestic abuse sector) that a firewall would be necessary to enable victims and survivors of domestic abuse with insecure immigration status to safely report domestic abuse.
“The measures outlined in the protocol today do not go far enough to address the fear that information will be shared with immigration enforcement, which prevents many victims and survivors from reporting domestic abuse – as set out so clearly in the report by HMICFRS last year,” she added.
The report does say that no immigration enforcement action will be taken against that victim while investigation and prosecution proceedings are ongoing and the victim is receiving support and advice to make an application to regularise their stay. The Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s office will work hard to ensure the protocol meets this commitment.
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner did welcome the commitment by the Home Office to offer support to any migrant victim who comes forward to report police and said she would work closely with the Government to ensure that this was properly funded in order to provide the support that was needed.
We have called on Government to provide £18.7m over a three-year period for migrant survivors with no recourse to public funds and for further £262.9m over three years for a dedicated funding pot for specialist ‘by and for’ services including services for Black and minoritized victims which would go a long way in providing this support’.
This decision comes at a time when migrant survivors of domestic abuse have extremely limited options. Without recourse to public funds, too many are forced to either stay with their abuser or face homelessness and destitution when they flee domestic abuse.
The Commissioner said: “Without sufficient funding for appropriate advice and support to help migrant victims and survivors understand their rights and entitlements and escape domestic abuse, they will not be able to overcome the fear of reporting domestic abuse, which is perpetuated by perpetrators.
“We urgently need to see Home Office develop a strong support package so that victims and survivors of domestic abuse can access the accommodation, support and legal advice they so desperately need,” Ms Jacobs added.
While support is clearly critical, the protocol announced today does not remove the fear of deportation for victims with insecure immigration status who report abuse. Even a letter from Home Office is enough to seemingly confirm what perpetrators tell their victims – that if they report abuse, they will be deported.
Evidence from the Latin American Women’s Rights Service found that more than half of migrant women feared that they would not be believed by the police because of their immigration status and that the police or the Home Office would support the perpetrator over them.1
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s recent report ‘Safety Before Status’ highlighted the widespread issue of immigration abuse – where perpetrators use victims and survivors’ insecure immigration status as a tool of control, threatening those victims will be deported if they ever report their crimes.
The knowledge that their information can be passed onto immigration enforcement, and that immigration enforcement may be in contact with victims and survivors of domestic abuse – regardless of whether enforcement action takes place – is harmful and can reinforce the impact of immigration abuse.
Without a Firewall, many victims and survivors will not be able to come forward with dangerous perpetrators allowed to escape justice.
In a joint statement in response to the Home Office report Gisella Valle from LAWRS and Pragna Patel from Southall Black Sisters said:
“We are dismayed by the outcome of the Home Review. By rejecting our proposal for a meaningful firewall between the police and immigration enforcement, the government has clearly signalled the view that immigration enforcement takes priority over the safety of victims.
“We strongly disagree with the alternative proposal to create an Immigration Enforcement Migrant Victims Protocol which is meaningless since it risks consolidating the sharing of domestic abuse victims’ data between the police and immigration enforcement as a standardised practice across all police forces nationally.”
Notes to editors:
- Home Office report
- Safety Before Status Report: Migrant victims forced to stay with abusers or face destitution because they can’t access public funds – Domestic Abuse Commissioner
- Super complaint by Liberty and Southall Black Sisters’ on data-sharing between the police and Home Office regarding victims and witnesses to crime.
The Home Office has announced today the conclusion of its review into Home Office and Police data sharing arrangements on migrant victims and witnesses of crime with insecure immigration status.
The Review was a response to the recommendation from the HMICFRS report Safe to Share, which tasked the Home Office in undertaking a Review, the effect of which should be to establish safe reporting mechanisms for all migrant victims and witnesses, including those with insecure immigration status, in accessing the police service.
The policy paper published today outlines that the Home Office will introduce an Immigration Enforcement (IE) Migrant Victims Protocol for migrant victims of crime that have been referred to IE from the police. The protocol will set out that no immigration enforcement action will be taken against that victim while investigation and prosecution proceedings are ongoing and the victim is receiving support and advice to make an application to regularise their stay.
The HMICFRS report stated that the Home Office should consider definitions of a Firewall and identify the correct basis on which any proposed firewall should be implemented. The decision by the Home Office not to establish a Firewall between the police and immigration enforcement goes against the view of the domestic abuse sector and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, that a firewall is necessary in order to enable migrant victims to safely report crime.
The HMICFRS investigation found that significant harm is being caused to the public interest because victims of crime with insecure immigration status are fearful that, if they report to the police, their information will be shared with the Home Office and/or the reported crimes will not be investigated.
The policy report highlights that during the period April 2020 to March 2021 the police referred just 211 migrant victims of domestic abuse, and none of these victims had been detained (upon or since referral) or removed. The protocol on ‘no enforcement’ is therefore unlikely to have any material impact yet does nothing to address the fear victims and survivors of domestic abuse have in coming forward to report to the police.
In addition to the protocol, the policy outlines the following upcoming plans:
- The police and IE will develop and implement a comprehensive stakeholder and outreach engagement programme designed to promote reporting of crime amongst migrants with irregular immigration status.
- IE will continue to build on its vulnerability strategy and ensure that staff are given the correct tools and mechanisms to respond effectively to migrant victims of crime.
- IE will explore analytical options to assess the barriers to reporting crime(s) amongst migrants with irregular immigration status within the UK, to identify further initiatives that could encourage reporting amongst this cohort.
- The Home Office will consider creating (or enhancing where extant) a routine referral pathway between the police and specialist domestic abuse services for all victims of domestic abuse, including those with insecure immigration status, when reporting to the police.
About the HMICFRS super complaint
In December 2018, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) notified the Home Office that Liberty and Southall Black Sisters (SBS) had brought the first super-complaint, challenging the sharing of information and data on migrant victims and witnesses of crime. The super-complaint was submitted against both the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and the Home Office and concerned the sharing of victim and witness data to the Home Office by the police for immigration enforcement purposes and a perceived culture of police prioritising immigration enforcement over safeguarding and the investigation of crime.
An investigative report, in response to the super-complaint, was jointly undertaken by HMICFRS, the College of Policing (CoP) and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). Their ‘Safe to Share’ Report, published in December 2020, found that victims and witnesses of crime with insecure or uncertain immigration status are fearful that if they report crimes to the police, their information will be shared with the Home Office and enforcement action will be taken against them and/or reported crimes will not be investigated. The report detailed a series of findings and recommendations for the Home Office and policing to consider.
Amendments to the Domestic Abuse Act in 2021 stated that the Secretary of State must review the processing of domestic abuse data by certain public authorities for immigration purposes, prepare and publish a report setting out the findings of that review and lay a copy of the report before Parliament by 29 December 2021.
A joint investigation by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS), the College of Policing (CoP) and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) found that victims of crime with insecure or uncertain immigration status are fearful that, if they report crimes to the police, their information will be shared with the Home Office.
The report recommended that police forces should restrict the sharing with immigration enforcement of information about vulnerable victims of crime.
The report was published following a policing super complaint, submitted by Liberty and Southall Black Sisters about the practice of the police sharing of victims’ immigration information with the Home Office.