As the Nationality and Borders Bill is making its way through the House of Lords, organisations in the migrants and refugees’, women’s and anti-trafficking sectors remain concerned about the harm that many of the proposals within the Bill would cause to migrant victims of serious crime. The Bill provides an opportunity to enshrine in legislation safeguarding provisions for those victims with insecure immigration status at the point of reporting a crime or accessing support.
In this context, two amendments (140 and 124A) were tabled by the Lord Bishop of London and Lord Coaker supported by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) and Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX) to ensure that migrant victims of crime can report safely without fear of negative consequences due to their immigration status. Regrettably, both of them were rejected by the government.
Research by LAWRS shows that 1 in 2 migrant victims of violence against women and girls (VAWG) with insecure immigration status do not report abuse to the police for fear of disbelief, destitution, detention and deportation. Perpetrators often exploit women’s insecure status, telling them that if they approach the police they will not be supported and will instead be placed at risk of detention or removal because of their legal status.
In December 2020, in light of the first police super-complaint, independent watchdogs concluded that data sharing between the police and the Home Office harms victims and the public interest, as crimes are not reported and investigated, leaving perpetrators free to continue abusing other victims.
The Government, however, continues to oppose establishing effective safe reporting mechanisms. Instead, it is proposing an Immigration Enforcement (IE) Migrant Victims Protocol, which in our view would further institutionalise, legitimise and consolidate cooperation (through data-sharing) between the police and Immigration Enforcement. We reject this Protocol because we know this approach will not inspire let alone enhance victims’ confidence in reporting a crime. On the contrary, we maintain that the active involvement of Immigration Enforcement will have a harmful effect on migrant victims.
Safe reporting is possible
Our new publication in partnership with FLEX, Preventing and Addressing Abuse and Exploitation: A Guide for Police and Labour Inspectors Working with Migrants, outlines practical strategies to increase trust between the police and labour inspectors and migrant communities. Building on international good practice, these strategies aim at enabling migrants to securely report abuse and exploitation and allow agencies to access valuable intelligence to prevent and address these crimes.
Relevant decision-makers and stakeholders such as the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, and the Independent Victims’ Commissioner for London, Claire Waxman OBE, support the establishment of safe reporting mechanisms.
“It would be entirely wrong to frame this problem as insurmountable. As this important briefing outlines, there are clear success stories from around the world where communities have taken the decision to reprioritise and redesign justice. They have invested in constructive relationships between law enforcement and migrant communities; they have marshalled data and intelligence and created safe and secure routes for reporting; they have enabled police to access better intelligence and do their jobs more effectively; they have pushed back on national policies which seek to criminalise victims. Most importantly, they have provided dignity and safety to migrant victims. The issues and policies outlined in this briefing should be a rallying call to all decision-makers, that we can and should decide that migrant lives are worth protecting and that the justice system is here for everyone.”
Claire Waxman OBE, Independent Victims’ Commissioner for London
Read the full guide here.