Hostile environment data-sharing

Why all victims should feel safe to report crimes to police – not fear deportation if they do

Posted on 16 Aug 2019

All victims and witnesses must be safe to report crimes to the police.

By routinely handing victims of crime to the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes, police are damaging community relations, putting undocumented people at risk – and making us all less safe.

Yesterday the Mayor of London and the London Victims’ Commissioner called on Home Secretary Sajid Javid to protect survivors of domestic violence who report abuse to the police from being flagged to the Home Office because of their immigration status.

The Commissioner said she had come across a number of women too scared to report domestic violence to the police through fear of deportation – effectively trapping them in an abusive relationship.

Since 2010, the Government has been steadily transforming public servants and even private citizens into border guards – often without their consent, sometimes without their knowledge – and using the data they collect for immigration enforcement purposes.

This approach is explicitly designed to make life unbearable for undocumented people.It gives no consideration to the impact on settled migrant communities, BAME people or wider society – or on the vital trust between frontline workers and those they serve.

Parents have been afraid to send their children to school for fear that they and their families would be deported. People have risked their lives avoiding medical help. Rough sleepers have hidden from services meant to assist them.

Now, after years of toxic rhetoric and policy making, the human cost of the hostile environment is playing out in front of our eyes.

Protect and serve

In a significant win for the Step Up Migrant Women campaign, led by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service, Sadiq Khan and Claire Waxman have now urged the Home Secretary to guarantee safe reporting mechanisms so survivors of domestic abuse are protected – not treated as immigration enforcement targets.

This is a hugely welcome intervention – and Sajid Javid must listen to and act on their recommendations.

But he must go further. All victims and witnesses must be safe to report crimes to the police.

There have already been many reports of deeply worrying incidents stemming from police data-sharing and the hostile environment.

A harrowing incident came to light last year – a woman who reported her kidnap and rape to the Metropolitan Police was later detained at a rape crisis centre on suspicion of entering Britain illegally.

In another case, a man who reported an assault to police was taken to immigration detention himself.

These are not isolated occurrences. Freedom of information requests have revealed that 27 of the UK’s 45 police forces routinely hand over victims and witnesses of crime to the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes.

This is despite the UK having signed up to the EU victims’ rights directive, which says we must treat all victims of crime “in a respectful, sensitive and professional manner without discrimination of any kind” – including on the basis of immigration status.

Only three forces said they follow National Police Chiefs Council guidance which says victims will not be immediately arrested because of their immigration status unless there is an immediate risk of harm to someone else.

By blurring the lines between policing and border control, the Government risks severely damaging police-community relations.

It’s also deterring people from reporting serious crimes, meaning they are not investigated and criminals are able to act with impunity – making us all less safe.

The police should prioritise investigating serious crimes – but this can’t happen if people don’t feel safe to approach them.

Care Don’t Share

For many of our essential services, data-sharing deals between the Home Office and other departments now mean that formerly trusted public servants are less able to do their jobs and support people.

Without a cast-iron promise that personal data collected by frontline services won’t be passed to the Home Office, undocumented people will remain vulnerable to exploitation, serious crime and other harm – and important public policy objectives like crime prevention, children’s education and the protection of public health will be fatally undermined.

The broader risks these practices pose are also alarming. By prioritising immigration enforcement over protecting essential public service data, the Government is setting a precedent saying that – once we’ve handed over our data to a confidential public service – it can use that data for another purpose, without our knowledge or consent.

That’s dangerous for our privacy rights – and for the future confidentiality of our public services.

Liberty is calling on the Government to introduce an impenetrable firewall between immigration control and vital public services. Undocumented people lack papers – not basic human rights.

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