Press release: Home Office Review on data-sharing on migrant victims is not fit for purpose, say women’s rights and civil liberties groups

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.

Hi, this is Julia from LAWRS, is it safe for you to speak?

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the beginning of the 16 days of Activism. We’re kicking off a series of activities to increase awareness of the barriers and needs of the Latin American women experiencing VAWG in the UK with this blog post about the unique journey that every victim/survivor has and the support our team of VAWG caseworkers can offer them.

 

Being a Latin American VAWG caseworker

There are procedures and guidelines that we follow when calling a survivor of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) for the first time. But survivors of abuse have different experiences and they might be in distinct moments of their journeys. Even though we are prepared for this, what happens after a survivor picks up the phone is quite unpredictable.

Women experiencing VAWG sometimes feel there is something wrong in their relationship but they cannot quite name it. So they come to LAWRS to have someone listen to them and to perhaps learn more about violence against women and girls as a whole. Usually, once we start the conversation about the types and cycle of abuse, they recognise themselves as victims of domestic abuse. This can be a very difficult moment. What happens next depends on what their needs and priorities are.

Others come to our service fully aware of their situation and able to name it: I’m a survivor of domestic abuse. They might not be ready to leave their perpetrator, but they want to understand their options. They come to LAWRS in search of advice on different issues: how to report a crime to the police, protective orders, parental rights and consequences to their children, how to get a divorce, what happens with their immigration status, emotional support, English lessons, booking an appointment with their GP, access to interpreters and so on.

In some cases, women come to us at the point where they need to flee the house and escape the abuse because the violence has escalated. They might be homeless, destitute, in need of medical help and feeling like they are stuck in a horrible and endless situation. We explore their options together and discuss their plans.

In the Latin American community, due to a lack of support network, structural inequalities, the language barrier, the lack of knowledge of the system, the isolation and insecure immigration status, many women endure violence and abuse for  extensive periods, and often until it becomes a high risk situation, because they think they don’t have other options. Perpetrators will exploit the victim’s vulnerability, including in some cases their insecure immigration status, to manipulate and further abuse them. 

“If you report me to the police, I will report you to the Home Office”

“If you leave me, you will be deported and I will keep the children”

“If you don’t do what I want, I will call immigration control on you”.

Our role at LAWRS is to listen to the victim/survivor, to remind her that this is not her fault and that we believe her. We also connect them with relevant services for further necessary information and support.  We walk alongside them in their journey, always understanding and accepting that what happens after that initial phone call, depends on the survivor’s needs and priorities. This means that she decides what to do with the information she now has. Women are experts of their experience; they know what’s best for them. Our duty is to support them to get there and to make sure they don’t walk alone.


The Unheard Workforce

The Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) is launching its latest report: “The Unheard Workforce: Experiences of Latin American migrant women in cleaning, hospitality and domestic work” 

Download report

On the 17th July 2019, LAWRS launched the research “The Unheard Workforce: Experiences of Latin American migrant women in cleaning, hospitality and domestic work”. Funded by Trust for London

The research draws on 326 cases of women supported at the Employment Rights Advice Service of the organisation. It presents an array of deeply concerning labour rights violations experienced by Latin American migrant women employed in three key feminised sectors of London’s manual labour: cleaning, hospitality, and domestic work.

Among the key results arising from these cases, we found that:

  • Over half of the workers faced breaches to their contracts (62%). Unlawful deduction of wages was the most common type of abuse (151 cases, 46%).
  • 1 in 5 (20%) experienced illegal underpayment of the National Minimum Wage.
  • 17% were unlawfully denied the annual leave they were entitled to, and 16% were not paid accrued in lieu annual leave once they left the company.
  • Health and safety issues were present in 25% of the cases – predominantly injury due to the nature of the work (33%), limited or no protective equipment (17%), and lack of training (12%).
  • Over two in five (41%) of women in the sample have experienced discrimination, harassment or unreasonable treatment.
  • 66% experienced bullying or unreasonable treatment as regular occurrences.
  • A large proportion endured verbal and/or faced physical abuse, 37% and 11% respectively.
  • 16% of the women endured a total of 13 different types of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace.
  • Abuse on the grounds of maternity was experienced by 9% of women. This includes failure to pay for hours spent at prenatal appointments and denial of risk assessments during pregnancy.
  • 11 cases of potential trafficking for labour exploitation were identified: 7 were cleaners or hospitality workers and 4 were domestic workers.

“We are not machines or numbers. We are human beings who want to work and to be treated with dignity and respect. We want nothing more and nothing less.”

Watch the full short documentary below:

“Undocumented Latin American migrant woman’s experiences of labour abuse in London”

This documentary was made with the support of Media Trust by the filmmaker Andrew Contreras


LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Protesting Banners

LAWRS 35th Anniversary report is out!

35 year ago, we started our work in a time where domestic violence was only physical abuse and we increased our services accordingly to the development of policies and legislation through the years. We are proud to follow the steps of amazing Latin American women who came before us and we hope to do our part for the ones to come. As a specialist service, we will continue providing survival, security, safety, and well-being and also advocating and campaigning for human rights and social justice for migrant women and migrant women workers in the UK.

During the last year 2017-2018, our main achievements were:

  • 1,890 hours of comprehensive wellbeing support offered
  • 1,691 advice and information sessions
  • 339 survivors of violence supported to find safety
  • 285 school students better able to lead healthy relationships
  • 266 women joined in our integration programme
  • 515 women supported in Southwark
  • 124 women supported in Haringey
  • 93% improved their knowledge about rights
  • 85% improved their wellbeing
  • 40% of our drop-in service users accessed more than 1 service in a single visit
  • 70% found LAWRS through word of mouth
  • Evidenced-based campaigning work to tackle violence against women and girls, labour exploitation and reduce the impact of Brexit

Read more here: LAWRS 35th Anniversary Annual Report


LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Supporters Voices Of Resilience

Voices of Resilience: short documentary

Migrant and refugee women face multiple barriers when arriving in the EU and the current political anti-migrant climate has made their situations direr. Experiences of gender-based abuse, exploitation at work and isolation have been exacerbated by the progressive erosion of migrant and women’s rights.

On International Migrant Day 2018, LAWRS launches the short documentary titled: Voices of resilience: Migrant and Refugee women in Europe” which highlights the experiences of migrant women in the UK, Spain, Poland and Italy and sharing their experiences and calls for change.

The short documentary was made as part of the  Women, Empowerment, Integration and Participation project (WEIP) run by LAWRS (UK), Differenza Donna (Italy), KARAT Coalition (Poland) and Red Acoge (Spain) and brought the voices and experiences of migrant and refugee women to the forefront. The documentary was first screened in November at the WEIP’s international conference in London, where more than 20 migrant and women organisations in Europe highlighted the role of migrant women’s lived experiences and provided recommendations to uphold their right to integrate and to live free of violence and discrimination.

Sophia Gomez Pelaez, a migrant woman in Spain, interviewed in the short documentary states:

“We come looking for other opportunities, especially as women as we are searching to cover family needs. However, it is difficult to find shelter as we often face rejection”

Moreover, Cathrine Nsamba, a migrant woman in Italy also interviewed (and photographed above) recommends:

“I was supported by the organisation to learn more and to understand more […]and my advice for women like me are to go inside leadership and campaign for these leaderships”

Finally, Alma Gatica, the WEIP Coordinator at the Latin American Women’s Rights Service stresses the importance of a migrant and gender perspective in our work.

“We, migrant women, have to get access to decision-making spaces where policies are discussed so we can fully participate in the host country: socially, politically and economically. We are the leaders of our own empowerment journey, both as migrants and as women”

Watch the full short documentary:

Co-funded by the Asylum, Migration and Integration fund of the European Commission


LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Supporters We Can't Fight In The Dark

We can’t fight in the dark: Brazilian women facing violence

A research by the King’s College in partnership with LAWRS found out that VAWG among Brazilian women in London is “alarmingly widespread”, with 4 in every 5 Brazilian women in London have experienced some kind of violence.

The study, published in March 2018, shed a light on cases of violence suffered by Brazilian women in London, provided data and offered policy recommendations to tackle the issue. According to the study emotional/psychological violence was the commonest type of violence experienced in London (48%), followed by physical violence (38%), with 14% experiencing sexual violence.

The study also found that cases of VAWG are intersectional as women of mixed race were more likely to experience violence (63%) than white women (44%). Insecure immigration status prevented women from coming forward and reporting the cases of violence to the police. Apart from highlighting the need for the Domestic Violence and Abuse (DVA) Bill to set standards for the protection of migrant victims’, some of the proposed solutions to prevent VAWG cases with Brazilian women are extending ‘recourse to public funds’ to domestic violence victims, specialist training for agency officers; and increased collaboration between support organisations and government authorities. The study reinforces the need for safe reporting mechanisms to be implemented as we campaign in Step Up Migrant Women.

 

LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Supporters We Can't Fight In The Dark
LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Supporters We Can't Fight In The Dark
LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Supporters We Can't Fight In The Dark
LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Supporters We Can't Fight In The Dark
LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Supporters We Can't Fight In The Dark

LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Supporters Sin Fronteras

Relaunch of Sin fronteras: Empowering young women from Latin America

We are thrilled to announce the return of Sin Fronteras! Launched in June 2015, Sin Fronteras (No Limits) focuses on empowering young Latin American women and girls. Sin Fronteras provides them with a safe space to develop their full potential and lead on actions for social change through the use of arts. During the first two and a half years of the project, LAWRS offered different workshops and activities to more than 100 Latin American young women and girls. Through art, dance and music the young women and girls were able to identify themselves as agents that can generate a social change in our communities.

“We want to set an example, leave a footprint and speak up for Latin American people and for people from all over the world whose voices are silenced or to whom language is a barrier,” said the manifest written by members of the group.

They advocated for the recognition of young migrant women’s rights by calling for a recognition of rights through photography exhibitions, by demonstrating against detention at Yarl’s Wood, and by joining the campaign Against Border for Children (ABC). Here is Sin Fronteras standing up for the the right to education free from racism and state surveillance.

LAWRS is thrilled to relaunch Sin Fronteras in November 2018. We will run a 3-month creative leadership programme with the support of the University of London, a 1-year programme to access free university lectures thanks to King’s College London, and a 3-year programme of arts, development and social change funded by Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Stay tuned to get more news about the awesome things this group of young leaders will be doing in the coming months.


LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Stand Up Migrant Women

Step Up Migrant Women: Mayor of London calls for safe reporting for migrant victims

Prompted by our Step Up Migrant Women UK coalition, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan urged the Home Office to protect domestic abuse victims who are vulnerable due to hostile environment policies. Migrant women with undocumented status are denied access to support and remain trapped in abusive relationships.

LAWRS worked with the Mayor’s office in drafting his letter to the Home Secretary, with measures and guidelines to ensure victims have access to justice and support services.

The Mayor’s demands were backed by Victims Commissioner Claire Waxman, who has been hosting a series of roundtables on the issue, and MP Jess Phillips.

“Both the mayor and I are clear that all victims of abuse must have full confidence to report crime and their abusers to ensure justice is done, no matter what their status might be,” said Claire Waxman

The current lack of safe-reporting mechanisms creates a barrier for migrant women to flee violence and gives greater impunity to perpetrators. An Imkaan study has shown that 92% of women with insecure status have received threats of deportation from perpetrators.

LAWRS’ Director, Lucila Granada, commented:

“The hostile environment policies have led to this extremely dangerous situation where many victims of severe crimes are too afraid to go to the police. Their perpetrator is dangerous, but the police can be even more dangerous to them. Perpetrators are hiding behind these policies and using them to abuse their victims.”

Step Up Migrant Women is a campaign led by LAWRS and supported by over 30 women’s and migrants’ rights organisations. We campaign for the implementation of safe-reporting mechanisms and the end of data-sharing policies when victims approach the police.

Photo by Angeles Rodenas


LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Minorities Face Barriers to Islington Health

Research: Minorities face Barriers to Islington Health

LAWRS Development and Outreach Coordinator Nahir de la Silva explains how LAWRS and the consortium Diverse Communities Health Voice found that Latin American women in Islington need better quality and gender-specific interpretation services to access healthcare. 

Diverse Communities Health Voice, a consortium of ten Islington-based organisations*, has published its findings on research into how ethnic minorities are accessing the NHS: Community research 2016-2017 Black and minority ethnic groups accessing services in Islington.

As a consortium member, LAWRS interviewed 22 Latin American women* within our organisation, with research broken down into five different areas: pharmacies, wellbeing, accident & emergency, interpreting services, and referrals to specialist services.

We offer services including linguistically-specific counselling and yoga to help our community keep healthy.

Our interviews found that women experienced their first barrier when trying to make appointments. Reception staff did not provide appointments due to a lack of language understanding of our service users. We also heard of cases in which staff members would not offer interpreting services, despite the knowing that our users were not comfortable only using English.

This interview-based research has helped LAWRS identify different issues faced by our service users while trying to access the NHS. It is also helping us work with the community and local government to tackle these problems.

At LAWRS we wrote letters addressed to administrative staff from GP clinics asking for appointments and interpreters. We managed to get some much-needed appointments. LAWRS also provided information on services on offer in pharmacies, as well as free sports and wellbeing activities, dentist services, walk-in-centres, and complaint procedures.

Our research has also helped us conclude that language interpreting services need to be improved in Islington, as well as become more culturally and gender secure. We would also appreciate reception staff receiving appropriate Equality and Diversity training.

The final report makes the following recommendations

• To extend GP hours in order to make it possible for people working in different jobs to get appointments
• To promote information about the services available
• To translate this information into key languages to increase uptake

Read the full report here.[:es]

LAWRS Development and Outreach Coordinator Nahir de la Silva explains how the consortium Diverse Communities Health Voice also indicates that Latin American women in Islington need better quality and gender-specific interpretation services to access healthcare. 

Diverse Communities Health Voice, a consortium of ten Islington-based organisations*, has published its findings on research into how ethnic minorities are accessing the NHS: Community research 2016-2017 Black and minority ethnic groups accessing services in Islington.

As a consortium member, LAWRS interviewed 22 Latin American women* within our organisation, with research broken down into five different areas: pharmacies, wellbeing, accident & emergency, interpreting services, and referrals to specialist services.

Our interviews found that women experienced their first barrier when trying to make appointments. Reception staff did not provide appointments due to a lack of language understanding of our service users. We also heard of cases in which staff members would not offer interpreting services, despite the knowing that our users were not comfortable only using English.

This interview-based research has helped LAWRS identify different issues faced by our service users while trying to access the NHS. It is also helping us work with the community and local government to tackle these problems.

At LAWRS we wrote letters addressed to administrative staff from GP clinics asking for appointments and interpreters. We managed to get some much-needed appointments. LAWRS also provided information on services on offer in pharmacies, as well as free sports and wellbeing activities, dentist services, walk-in-centres, and complaint procedures.

Our research has also helped us conclude that language interpreting services need to be improved in Islington, as well as become more culturally and gender secure. We would also appreciate reception staff receiving appropriate Equality and Diversity training.

The final report makes the following recommendations

• To extend GP hours in order to make it possible for people working in different jobs to get appointments
• To promote information about the services available
• To translate this information into key languages to increase uptake

Read the full report here.[:pt]LAWRS Development and Outreach Coordinator Nahir de la Silva explains how the consortium Diverse Communities Health Voice also indicates that Latin American women in Islington need better quality and gender-specific interpretation services to access healthcare. 

Diverse Communities Health Voice, a consortium of ten Islington-based organisations*, has published its findings on research into how ethnic minorities are accessing the NHS: Community research 2016-2017 Black and minority ethnic groups accessing services in Islington.

As a consortium member, LAWRS interviewed 22 Latin American women* within our organisation, with research broken down into five different areas: pharmacies, wellbeing, accident & emergency, interpreting services, and referrals to specialist services.

Our interviews found that women experienced their first barrier when trying to make appointments. Reception staff did not provide appointments due to a lack of language understanding of our service users. We also heard of cases in which staff members would not offer interpreting services, despite the knowing that our users were not comfortable only using English.

This interview-based research has helped LAWRS identify different issues faced by our service users while trying to access the NHS. It is also helping us work with the community and local government to tackle these problems.

At LAWRS we wrote letters addressed to administrative staff from GP clinics asking for appointments and interpreters. We managed to get some much-needed appointments. LAWRS also provided information on services on offer in pharmacies, as well as free sports and wellbeing activities, dentist services, walk-in-centres, and complaint procedures.

Our research has also helped us conclude that language interpreting services need to be improved in Islington, as well as become more culturally and gender secure. We would also appreciate reception staff receiving appropriate Equality and Diversity training.

The final report makes the following recommendations

• To extend GP hours in order to make it possible for people working in different jobs to get appointments
• To promote information about the services available
• To translate this information into key languages to increase uptake

Read the full report here.

*Overall, 207 people were interviewed, across all participant organisations in the consortium. LAWRS has now been a consortium member for two years.

*The ten Islington-based organisations work to listen to and represent members of society that are not being heard by mainstream agencies.


LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Supporters Domestic Abuse During Isolation

Love Does Not kill, Violence Does

Love Does Not kill, Violence Does is our zero tolerance to violence against women and girls campaign, which aims to bring awareness to the longstanding problem of violence affecting Latin American and other migrant women in the UK.

This campaign also highlights the importance of recognising Latin Americans as an ethnic minority in order for women in our community to be able to access appropriate services targeted to respond to their needs.

We call on central government and local authorities to:

  • Provide appropriate and targeted services to migrant women victims of violence and abuse.
  • Officially recognise Latin Americans as an ethnic group.
  • Secure funding for specialist community organizations responding to the needs of migrant women and other minorities victims of violence and abuse.

This campaign was launched with the screening of our short film ‘Invisible Women’ with an audience of over 130 Latin American community leaders and activists. ‘Invisible Women’ is based on the experiences of 3 of our users. Their stories sadly reflect the situation of abuse, exploitation, and poverty facing many Latin American women in the UK today. Produced by Literally Films and Media Trust, you can watch it here:

The screening was followed by a roundtable with Labour MP Stella Creasy, Crime Prevention and Champion of the One Billion Rise campaign; Katharine Round, Director of Literally Films and Director of the video ‘Invisible Women’; and Carolina Gottardo, Director of LAWRS. The debate was chaired by Professor Maxine Molyneux, Director of the Institute of the Americas, University College London.

Our anti-violence posters in Spanish and Portuguese are displayed at Latin American organisations, shops, churches, and other community spaces. Our work towards demanding official recognition and appropriate funding for support services continues, but Latin American women need you to support their fight for equality.