Home Office rejects recommendation to introduce a firewall to protect migrant survivors

Dismay by women's organisations as practice of data sharing between police and immigration enforcement will remain

Two police officers

The Home Office has  published  its review into data-sharing arrangements between the police and Home Office, concerning migrant victims and witnesses of crime with insecure immigration status (Wednesday 15 December). Disappointingly, the Home Office has rejected the recommendations and expertise of specialist women’s organisations and the Domestic Abuse and Victim’s Commissioners to introduce a “firewall” between the police and the Home Office.

EVAW is dismayed by the Home Office decision to reject this opportunity to lift one of the many barriers that traps migrant survivors in abusive environments due to fear of immigration enforcement being taken against them.

Andrea Simon, Director says:

EVAW is incredibly disappointed by the Home Office’s conclusions, and their refusal to place the protection of migrant survivors over and above immigration enforcement objectives. SBS, LAWRS, and many other specialist ‘by and for’ services are clear that the proposed ‘Migrant Victim’s Protocol’ put forward by the Home Office is an entirely inadequate and inappropriate solution. Migrant survivors will remain deterred from seeking help, without the reassurance that they will not be pursued by Immigration Enforcement as a result.

In a context where the Government and Home Office repeatedly state that one their objectives to encourage more victims and survivors to report to the police, there is no doubt that the ‘hostile environment’ severely impedes that goal. We must be clear in national conversations about trust in policing that this Review will affirm that policing is not a trusted institution for many women in the UK, not least those whose immigration status takes priority above their safety.”

Background

In 2018, Southall Black Sisters (SBS) and Liberty submitted the first ever police super-complaint  regarding the practice of police sharing data about migrant survivors of abuse with the Home Office with the devastating impact that the practice has on migrant survivors. It detailed how migrant women are made fearful of disclosing abuse due to the risk of being pursued and criminalised when reporting to the police. Also how in many cases, perpetrators of abuse are able to weaponise such ‘hostile environment’ policies as part of their coercive control of women.

Research by Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) with 183 women with insecure immigration status found that 92% had received threats of deportation from perpetrators. Many survivors are more fearful of the police than those who perpetrate abuse.

In December 2020, police inspectorates, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), the College of Policing and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) published the conclusions of their investigation into the supercomplaint.  There report confirmed that:

  •  data-sharing between the police and Home Office deters some migrant victims or witnesses of crime from going to the police, particularly victims of domestic abuse
  • “sharing information on victims of domestic abuse with Immigration Enforcement does not constitute safeguarding” (as is often claimed),
  •  “harm [is] caused to the public interest” by victims’ inability to seek justice and offenders not being identified or reprimanded.”

Recommendations by the inspectorates called for chief constables to immediately stop sharing data concerning victims of domestic abuse, and for the Home Office to undertake a review into data sharing framework.

LAWRS also sought to amend the Domestic Abuse Act to enshrine a ‘firewall’ into legislation, however this call was rejected on the basis of this Home Office Review. Instead, the Review was placed on a statutory footing, to prepare and publish the review findings to be laid before Parliament.

The Home Office Review

The long-awaited review makes clear that there is a consensus amongst specialist expert VAWG organisations about the need for a complete firewall.

However, the Home Office opposed this position on the basis of “police officers” finding data-sharing ‘beneficial’. It also rejected the proposal for a ‘time-limited’ firewall.

Instead, the Home Office proposes introducing an “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.”

There appears to be an ongoing refusal to acknowledge the conflict of interests in the Home Office’s objectives of “enforcing immigration law” and “safeguarding victims” and their choice to prioritise the former over the latter.

EVAW is also disappointed that the Review confirms that the police simply rejected the inspectorates recommendations to stop sharing data whilst this review was ongoing, choosing instead to refer to NPCC guidance.

In a context where Black, minoritised and migrant women are at disproportionate risk of abuse, we are dismayed by the Home Office’s position. We will continue to support EVAW members SBS and LAWRS in campaigning to ensure that there is protection for all survivors, irrespective of immigration status.

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