Data sharing between the police and Immigration Enforcement is an issue that has raised concerns about its impacts on migrant victims and witnesses of crime for years. It forms part of the government’s ‘hostile environment’ that has led organisations such as the Latin American Women’s Rights Service to report a significant increase in the number of women who are deterred from reporting serious crimes (including domestic abuse and modern slavery) owing to the legitimate fear and real possibility of facing detention and deportation.

In 2018, Southall Black Sisters and Liberty lodged the first-ever super-complaint on data sharing between the Police and the Home Office. In December 2020, the findings of the super-complaint investigation, led by three independent police watchdogs, were published. It concluded that these arrangements are significantly harming not only victims of crime but also the public interest, as crimes are not reported and therefore remain unpunished. The report also confirmed that in domestic abuse cases, data-sharing with Immigration Enforcement does not constitute safeguarding. Among many recommendations made, the police inspectorate bodies called for immediate action to stop this practice and recommended a review of the data-sharing schemes. The aim is to establish safe reporting mechanisms for all migrant victims and witnesses of crime.

In December 2021, the Government published the “Home Office and police data-sharing arrangements on migrant victims and witnesses of crime with insecure immigration status” review. The contents state that data-sharing with Immigration Enforcement (IE) is essential to protect victims. The Review rejects the need to establish a firewall that makes it safer for victims with insecure immigration status to approach the police to report crimes safely. Instead, an IE Migrant Victims Protocol was proposed, this protocol is meant to prevent immigration enforcement action against victims whilst criminal investigations and proceedings are ongoing. The Home Office believes that information sharing between the police and IE is necessary to safeguard and protect vulnerable victims of crime.

LAWRS research shows that victims of VAWG with insecure immigration status are unlikely to approach the police because they believe that the police will prioritise their lack of legal status instead of being protected as victims of serious crimes. These fears are based on years of hostile immigration policies that prevent migrant victims from accessing safety and justice. We, therefore, disagree with the Government’s view that Immigration Enforcement is playing a safeguarding role as it is clear its primary role is to enforce immigration laws, using detention and deportation as its primary tools.

We believe a complete firewall on data-sharing between the police and immigration enforcement is the most appropriate safe reporting mechanism. This would allow victims and witnesses to feel confident in approaching the police to report crimes and are more likely to engage in criminal proceedings which will, in turn, allow the police to hold perpetrators to account and prevent crime. However, the Home Office Review and the Immigration Enforcement (IE) Migrant Victims Protocol have failed to address the harm generated by data-sharing and failed to guarantee safety in reporting to the police without the fear of detention or deportation.

We reject the Protocol. It only serves to continue and heighten the Government’s hostile immigration policy and as such, we will not be engaging with the Home Office in its development. Our commitment is to ensure all victims can be safe, irrespective of their migrant status. We’ll continue to campaign and advocate for appropriate safe reporting mechanisms that are meaningful to the women we serve in forthcoming legislation and policy processes.

Read our full response here.

This joint response is supported by:

Latin American Women’s Rights Service
Step Up Migrant Women Campaign
Southall Black Sisters
Focus on Labour Exploitation
Middle Eastern Women & Society Organisation
Asian Women’s Resource Centre
The Voice of Domestic Workers
Safety4Sisters North West
Kanlungan Filipino Consortium
The Angelou Centre

Contact: Elizabeth Jiménez-Yáñez
Policy and Communications coordinator on VAWG
077 1396 7767