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Home Office review of data sharing for migrant victims and witnesses of crime leaves victims unprotected and perpetrators able to exploit

December 15, 2021

FLEX is disappointed by the Home Office review of data sharing of migrant victims and witnesses of crime for immigration enforcement purposes, which fails to adequately address the real concern raised by victims and survivors, front line organisations and the recent Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services ‘Safe to Share?’ report. This failure will leave victims, including victims of slavery, unprotected and allow perpetrators to act with impunity.

The Home Office’s failure to stop using data from victims and witnesses of crime for immigration enforcement purposes, despite the consistent evidence that this practice leaves those with insecure status too fearful to come forward, will prevent victims of human trafficking from reporting crimes and empower exploiters and other perpetrators of abuse.

The hidden nature of trafficking makes it difficult to gain an accurate picture of its true scale and nature. As a result, anti-trafficking responses are dependent on victims coming forward about their experience. The continued absence of secure reporting options that enable people with insecure status to come forward as victims of crime undermines our ability to address trafficking and run counter to the UK’s stated ambition to ‘lead the way in defeating modern slavery.’

We strongly dispute the Home Office claim that Immigration Enforcement has any safeguarding role. On the contrary, prioritising immigration enforcement undermines safeguarding and leaves victims vulnerable to continued exploitation. The proposed Immigration Enforcement (IE) Migrant Victims Protocol offers just another example of an initiative that will continue to dissuade some of the most vulnerable victims from seeking help. The Home Office response states that no enforcement action will be carried out against victims of crime while their case is being investigated and prosecuted. However, this provision will do very little to reassure victims and nothing for the many cases of misidentification. The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights 2019 research on eight countries including the UK, found that migrant workers rank their insecure status as the main reason they chose not to report exploitation[1]. The Home Office’s approach plays into the hands of exploiters who target those with insecure immigration status with impunity. Organisations such as the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) have highlighted that exploiters use the threat of deportation as a means to prevent victims from reporting their modern slavery.

Undocumented workers supported by Labour Exploitation Advisory Group members describe feeling caught between an abusive employer on one side, and the Home Office on the other, having no pathways to report workplace violations without the risk of losing the income upon which their families depend, being detained or removed from the country, as described by Angelica, a Venezuelan undocumented worker supported by LAWRS:

“When you are undocumented you are forced to choose between many impossible choices. You have to choose between letting your employer steal away half your wages or keeping your children fed. You have to choose to either stay with a violent man or choose to sleep on the street. You have to choose between being robbed because they know you are undocumented or being raided by the immigration officers. Your life becomes a series of impossible choices. You just have to choose the one that makes you sleep a little bit better at night.”[2]

The Home Office needs to learn from people with lived experience and from front line workers about the real impediments to reporting rather than chasing counter-productive immigration enforcement objectives.

For more information on the issues contained in this briefing, please contact:

Kate Roberts, Head of Policy: [email protected]

[1] European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Protecting migrant workers from exploitation in the EU: workers’ perspectives, 2019, p.74.

[2] Labour Exploitation Advisory Group, Opportunity Knocks: Improving responses to labour exploitation with secure reporting, April 2020. London: Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), p.18.