Preventing and Addressing Abuse and Exploitation: A guide for police and labour inspectors working with migrants

What you need to know:

  • Research shows that 1 in 2 migrant victims of violence against women and girls (VAWG) with insecure immigration status do not report abuse to the police.
  • The Government, however, continues to oppose establishing effective safe reporting mechanisms. Instead, it is proposing an Immigration Enforcement (IE) Migrant Victims Protocol, which could further discourage reporting.
  • A new approach is needed by institutions and organisations, built on identifying, developing and improving current practices in collaboration with the communities effected.

This guide by Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX) and Latin American Women's Rights Services (LAWRS), funded by Trust for London, looks into the police and labour inspectors’ practice of sharing migrants’ personal information with the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes. It describes how this is affecting migrants, especially victims of domestic abuse and labour exploitation, and making them vulnerable to harm, as well as analysing how this reporting is carried out in practice.

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 consequences as a result. This makes migrants more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, as abusers capitalise on this fear to act with impunity because they are unlikely to be held accountable for these violations.

As a result, relevant authorities are unable to prevent and address serious crime, like forced labour, servitude and domestic abuse, since they cannot access valuable intelligence needed to identify and prosecute abusers and exploiters. This situation results in migrants being denied safety and justice, and offenders going unpunished and remaining free to abuse others, creating a significant threat to public safety.

This report aims to help address this issue, through collating and conducting research on the amount and cause of underreporting to police and labour inspectors regarding abuse and exploitation among migrants. Alongside this, the report also outlines concrete steps with international case studies that the relevant organisations and agencies can take to reduce underreporting and make our communities safer and fairer.

Key findings

  • Insecure immigration status acts as a major vulnerability to abuse and exploitation. Evidence has shown that abusive employers and perpetrators of domestic abuse use migrants’ insecure status to threaten, coerce, control and trap them.
  • Immigration status is one of the main considerations migrants make in deciding whether or not to report abuse and exploitation.
  • This issue also affects those with regular immigration status but who are concerned that reporting could put their jobs at risk and negatively affect their visas, and even British nationals who fear that reporting issues at work could make their colleagues, friends and family vulnerable to immigration enforcement action.
  • Migrants’ fear of seeking help and, as a result, being left vulnerable to immigration enforcement action is not unfounded, with clear evidence that police sometimes prioritise immigration enforcement over supporting victims of abuse and exploitation.
  • The temporary "firewalls" between government bodies have failed, as those who would be at risk often fear their data will be used once the firewall has ended.

Key recommendations

Building on good practice, below are some strategies to introduce and strengthen secure reporting mechanisms within police forces and labour inspectorates in the UK.

1. Identify current practices

Start by assessing your agency’s current policies and practices. Some useful questions to ask yourself and your colleagues include:

  • Does your agency have a written guidance or policy that outlines its approach to engaging with migrants with insecure immigration status? How does it ensure all staff are aware and abide by it? How does it ensure migrants and the organisations supporting them are aware of your policy/guidance?
  • Do you or your colleagues ask people about their immigration status or seek to find out about it? If so, is this information essential to support the migrant and/ or investigate the issue, and if so, why?
  • Has anyone from your agency reported information about migrants with insecure status, actively or passively, to Immigration Enforcement in the last 12 or 24 months? If so, why and how? Is the collection of the immigration data essential to carrying out your functions and if so, why?
  • Does your agency conduct simultaneous operations with Immigration Enforcement? And if so, how often does that happen, why do you do it?
  • Are you and your colleagues aware that information shared with the Home Office via these reporting channels (see ‘types of reporting’ p.13) can and has been used for immigration enforcement purposes, including against victims and witnesses of crime? If so, which steps are taken to ensure this reporting does not interfere with your agency’s safeguarding duties?
  • Do you know the ethnic and migrant composition of the community you serve, and have you built strong relationships with specialist organisations supporting those groups?
  • Have you established dialogue with migrants and their communities about their perception of your agency, and the reasons why they trust or do not trust this agency?

2. Establish dialogue with the community and organisations supporting them

Organise outreach sessions to meet the community, engage organisations trusted by migrants, such as specialist organisations, trade unions, etc. Use this opportunity to listen to their views and concerns and build connections with these groups to start developing or strengthening a relationship of trust.

3. Develop and improve policies on engaging migrants

Build on the knowledge gained from the review exercise and from your greater engagement with the community to strengthen your policies. Ensure all staff in your agency are aware and abide by the rules. International good practice has shown that successful interventions have focused on the following criteria:

Police should prioritise victim and witness safeguarding, irrespective of immigration status. Labour inspectors should support all workers to address minor and major workplace abuse, irrespective of immigration status. In addition, these agencies should:

  • Not actively enquire about immigration status or carry out checks for immigration enforcement purposes, including during visits and investigations.
  • Not seek out matters of concern to immigration enforcement bodies.
  • Not report information on people who have experienced abuse and exploitation, victims and witnesses of crime for immigration enforcement purposes.
  • Not conduct simultaneous operations with immigration authorities • appoint a single point of contact (SPOC) in every force to oversee compliance with this guidance.
  • Ensure that migrants are referred to specialist services, including those ‘by and for’ migrant, Black and minoritised organisations, which can support them to resolve their immigration status.
  • Work with migrant and community organisations to build trust with the community, and ensure migrants are aware they can securely report abuse and exploitation without fear of facing negative immigration consequences as a result.
  • Establish agreements with immigration authorities that guarantee that migrants who are in the process of seeking justice are not detainable or removable while their cases are ongoing.

10 February 2022