How police and labour inspectors working with migrants can help prevent and address abuse and exploitation

News9 Feb 2022

Two amendments discussed earlier this week by Peers in the context of the Nationality and Borders Bill would have ensured that migrant victims of crime, including domestic abuse, labour exploitation and trafficking, are safe to report crime and seek assistance from the authorities without fear that their personal data will be shared with immigration enforcement.[i] FLEX and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) have today published a guide aimed at police and labour inspectors working with migrants which sets out how this would work in practice and how the introduction of safe reporting mechanisms can help prevent and address abuse and exploitation. Building on international good practice, it outlines practical strategies to increase trust between these agencies and migrant communities to enable migrants to securely report abuse and exploitation and agencies to access valuable intelligence to prevent and address these crimes.

Background

Migrants with insecure immigration status often feel unable to report cases of abuse and exploitation for fear that government authorities will prioritise their immigration status over the harm they have experienced and that they will face serious personal repercussions as a result. This makes migrants more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, as abusers take advantage of this fear to act with impunity because they are unlikely to be held accountable for these violations.

Another consequence of these practices is that they damage migrants’ trust in the police and labour inspectors and affect these agencies’ ability to identify and support those who have experienced abuse and exploitation. In this scenario, everyone is worse off, as migrants are denied justice and safety, and offenders go unpunished and remain free to abuse others, creating a significant threat to public safety, as evidenced by findings from the police super-complaint published in December 2020.

Concerningly, the Home Office’s review of data sharing of migrant victims and witnesses of crime following the police super complaint makes clear that immigration enforcement continues to be prioritised over the safeguarding of victims and fails to address the real concerns raised by victims, survivors, and frontline organisations, or to ensure that exploiters are brought to justice. Frontline organisations and their allies have responded in writing to government, setting out how the creation of the Immigration Enforcement Victims Protocol will fail to address the need for secure reporting and continues to prioritise Immigration Enforcement over safety of victims and supporting cooperation with the police. 

Secure reporting

The only real way to ensure migrant victims of abuse or exploitation feel safe in coming forward to report crimes is through secure reporting mechanisms. Secure reporting means choosing to prioritise the well-being and safeguarding of migrants over potential immigration offences, ensuring they will not be penalised for reporting abusive or exploitative conditions, at home, at work and beyond. 

Secure reporting has been tried and tested by police and labour inspectors abroad, achieving positive outcomes, such as access to better intelligence which makes it easier to identify perpetrators of crimes like domestic abuse and human trafficking, and preventing abuse from developing into more severe cases with potentially fatal consequences.

Building on lessons from other countries, the briefing outlines strategies police forces and labour inspectors in the UK can implement to introduce and strengthen secure reporting mechanisms and build trust with migrant communities. These include:

  • Identify and assess current policies and practices 
  • Establish dialogue with the community and organisations supporting them 
  • Develop or improve policies on engaging migrants
  • Maintain regular communications with migrants and those supporting them 

Read the publication and accompanying videos on the importance of secure reporting for labour exploitation and domestic abuse.

This work has been supported by PICUM and Trust for London.

[i] Amendments 124A and 140