Southall Black Sisters (SBS), Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) and Liberty have condemned the Government’s refusal to institute a firewall that would protect victims and witnesses of crime.

Liberty and SBS filed the first ever police super-complaint in December 2018, over the systematic sharing of victim data with immigration enforcement. The super-complaint, accompanied by 50 pages of evidence, showed that this practice was preventing victims of crime, particularly migrant women, from speaking to the police and putting them at risk.

In response, police watchdogs, HMICFRS, the College of Policing (CoP) and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) called for immediate action to stop this practice. Their report made clear that data-sharing acted as a deterrent to victims reporting crime, and that data-sharing caused significant harm to the public interest because of victims’ inability to seek protection or justice.

Today, Wednesday 15 December, the government announced the outcome of a Home Office Review[1] on data sharing between the police and Immigration Enforcement concerning migrant victims and witnesses of crime. The review makes no reference to police watchdogs’ response to SBS’ and Liberty’s super-complaint.

Pragna Patel, director of Southall Black Sisters said“As organisations that work with some of the most vulnerable and deprived migrant victims of domestic abuse, we reject this Review and its findings.

This Review is the outcome of three years of engagement with the Home Office that has proved itself to be untrustworthy. We have been compelled to engage in meaningless consultations and meetings on data sharing with the Home Office (which we did in good faith) only to be told that the immigration system – in its present cruel, discriminatory and inhuman form – must be maintained at any cost. It makes us question not only the Home Office’s dubious claims to support all victims of abuse but also the very purpose of police-super-complaints mechanism since the outcomes are casually disregarded by the very institutions that we seek to hold accountable.”

Gisela Valle, director of the Latin American Women’s Rights Service said: “We are deeply disappointed to see that once again immigration enforcement takes precedence over the security and support needs of survivors of domestic abuse.  It is contradictory for the Police and the Home Office to reiterate that survivors of domestic abuse are treated as a victim first and foremost but only insofar as it doesn’t affect the enforcement of immigration laws.  Considering the ample evidence of the manipulation of survivors’ insecure immigration status by perpetrators of domestic abuse, we consider prioritising immigration enforcement over the safety of victims the state amounts to complicity in the coercion and control of migrant victims of domestic abuse.”

Liberty lawyer Lara ten Caten said“It has never been clearer than during the pandemic – when countless people have been shut off from health services due to the risk of having their health data shared with immigration enforcement – that this practice puts lives at risk.

“The super-complaint brought by Liberty and Southall Black Sisters sought a firewall between police and the home office for immigration enforcement purposes so that victims and witnesses of crime would feel safe in coming forward. This decision by the Home Office not to implement a firewall ignores or plays down the fact that routine police discrimination already makes it harder, even dangerous, for people from marginalised backgrounds to interact with the police. This practice actively puts them, and everyone in society, at risk of crime.

“No one is safe until everyone is safe. We urge the government to reconsider their decision and implement a firewall.”

Pragna Patel, director of SBS, and Gisela Valle, director of LAWRS, added“The Home Office is trying to re-brand Immigration Enforcement as a ‘safeguarding’ service when data sharing is a key plank of the Government’s hostile environment policy – which we say must be scrapped. This is why we strongly disagree with the proposal to create an Immigration Enforcement Migrant Victims Protocol which will in fact consolidate the sharing of domestic abuse victims’ data between the police and immigration enforcement as a standardised practice across all police forces nationally.  Safeguarding is clearly incompatible with the Home Office’s immigration enforcement role which is its primary purpose.

The Government told us that it was committed to a full review of the ‘hostile or compliant’ environment following the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, but the outcome of the Home Office Review provides further evidence of its unwillingness to soften let along dispense with the harmful and discriminatory impact that its immigration policies have on the those who are most in need of protection. The impact of data sharing has been particularly damaging during the coronavirus pandemic when migrant women experiencing domestic abuse have faced the double threat of being trapped with their attackers but unable to go to the police.”

Contact Gisela Valle at gisela@lawrs.org.uk Pragna Patel at pragna@southallblacksisters.co.uk

Notes to Editors:

  1. The Home Office report is available atReview of data sharing: migrant victims and witnesses of crime – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk). The Review arose out of the first ever police super-complaint that was jointly submitted by Southall Black Sisters and Liberty in 2018 which highlighted how data sharing between the police and Immigration Enforcement deterred migrant women subject to domestic and sexual abuse and other vulnerable victims or witnesses of crime from reporting to the police. Findings from an HMICFRC investigation into the police super-complaint upheld the complaint and made clear that data-sharing was a deterrent; that there were inconsistencies and confusion across police forces about how to deal with victims and witnesses who have insecure immigration status and most significantly that harm was caused to the public interest by the victim’s inability to seek protection or justice. Despite this, the government refused to introduce statutory measures of protection including a fire wall between the police and Immigration Enforcement for migrant victims during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill (now an Act) in Parliament and instead committed to undertaking a Review of the matter.