Police Scotland reported over two hundred victims of crimes to Home Office immigration enforcement in a two year period, including sexually exploited children and women who’d been physically attacked and trafficked.
Those reported to the Home Office included 19 domestic abuse survivors, 87 trafficking victims, 43 people who suffered slavery, and five child victims of sexual exploitation. In total, Police Scotland reported 207 people to immigration enforcement.
Across the UK more than 2000 people were referred by police forces to immigration enforcement between May 2020 and September 2022. A quarter of the 451 domestic abuse victims referred were “served with enforcement papers”, meaning they faced deportation.
If a victim, witness or alleged perpetrator of a crime is reported to immigration enforcement, and that person is not able to prove their right to remain in Scotland, immigration enforcement can request that Police Scotland detain them.
Campaigners said the figures were “shocking” and reinforced a “legitimate fear” in migrant victims of domestic violence, trafficking and rape of reporting such crimes to the police.
Police Scotland said there are a number of “legitimate reasons” why it contacts the Home Office regarding victims of crime, which include “safeguarding”. The Home Office said that “stopping information sharing” can impact law enforcement agencies’ ability to support victims.
Human rights groups have repeatedly called for an information firewall between police forces and the Home Office, so that migrants’ details would not be shared with immigration officials.
Victims of crime reported by police to the Home Office have faced deportation. Last April a non-verbal Black British teenager who had never left the UK was detained by police on suspicion of fare evasion and told he would be sent to Nigeria.
Data obtained by investigative website The Detail under freedom of information laws — shared with The Ferret — shows that from 2020 to 2022, more than 2,000 victims of serious crime were reported by UK police forces to immigration enforcement
They included 785 victims of modern day slavery; 618 victims of human trafficking; 451 victims of domestic abuse; 75 victims of child sexual exploitation; 60 victims of sexual exploitation; 20 victims of forced marriage; 20 victims of labour exploitation; 12 victims of domestic servitude.
The real figures are likely to be much higher because the Home Office said it does not record data on police forces who refer victims via email.
Police Scotland – the UK’s second largest force – made 207 referrals to the immigration enforcement unit of the Home Office.
The Metropolitan police, the UK’s biggest force covering greater London, made the most referrals of crime victims to immigration enforcement, 460.
A Home Office document seen by the The Detail – marked “official sensitive” – shows that, over a nine-month period between April and December 2020, a quarter of domestic abuse victims referred by police to immigration enforcement, were “served with enforcement papers”, meaning they are facing deportation.
Immigration data sharing
Critics said Police Scotland should follow the example of NHS Scotland, which said it will not share details of patients with the Home Office.
Jen Ang, director of JustRight Scotland, said: “These shocking figures highlight the need for a clear and transparent statement from Police Scotland setting out when and why they choose to report victims, witnesses and perpetrators of crime to immigration enforcement.
“When statistics like these come to light – they reinforce a legitimate fear in migrant victims of domestic violence, trafficking, rape and assault of reporting these crimes to the police – this practice supports perpetrators of violence, and harms victims.”
Scottish Refugee Council policy manager Graham O’Neill said there should be a “legal firewall on immigration status between police forces and Home office immigration enforcement in all cases of serious abuse victims” including trafficking and slavery survivors.
“Police Scotland must immediately stop passing or checking immigration status information with the Home Office in respect of victims or witnesses of crimes, who may have insecure immigration status,” he added.
“This is an ethical policy matter. It is also essential that police gain and maintain the trust of vulnerable victims to enable them to detect the real criminals orchestrating the exploitation.”
Dr Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, said she was “seriously dismayed” to find that women and children experiencing domestic abuse are “revictimised” by institutions that are supposed to protect them.
She added: “It is everyone’s problem (and shame) that our systems offer migrant women little protection and even less access to justice and recovery from gender-based violence.
“Given that a high number of women who have fled to the UK have done so because of experiences of gender-based violence in their home countries, it is abhorrent that our immigration system forces women to choose between staying with abusers or deportation or investigation.”
Detective superintendent Fil Capaldi of Police Scotland said: “We are victim centred in our approach and treat all reports of crimes seriously. We are committed to supporting all victims of crime, regardless of their immigration status and would encourage them to come forward and report the circumstances, in confidence, knowing we will investigate thoroughly.
“Our priority is keeping people safe and ensuring that victims have fair and equal access to services and that they are treated with dignity and respect at all times, regardless of their background. We always ensure that victims of crime are given access to specialist support from partnership organisations.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting all victims of domestic abuse and modern slavery, regardless of their immigration status. That is why we are introducing a new protocol to provide migrant victims of crime with assurances that they can report crime.
“Following a review into data-sharing arrangements between policing and immigration enforcement, it was concluded that a ‘firewall’ is not an appropriate solution as stopping information sharing can impact law enforcement agencies ability to support victims.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said the role played by Police Scotland in assisting the Home Office with “custodial services for people suspected of immigration offences”, is an operational matter for the force.
They added: “Asylum and immigration are entirely reserved to the UK Government. Scottish ministers have consistently and repeatedly raised concerns with the current system and urged UK minister’s to reform the asylum and immigration system to be humane and dignified and fit for purpose, as well as raised a variety of other issues including detention.
Featured image thanks to iStock/Tinnakorn Jorruang.