THOUSANDS of migrant victims of crime, including children who suffered sexual exploitation, have been referred to the Home Office by police forces across the UK.
Each of the 43 forces in England and Wales, as well as Police Scotland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), reported 2,672 victims of crime to the enforcement unit of the Home Office between May 2020 and September 2022.
Victims included people who suffered domestic violence, human trafficking and modern day slavery, an investigation by The Detail and the Guardian can reveal.
Every force referred victims of domestic abuse.
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.
Campaigners have said that the practice of sharing information on victims and witnesses of crime with the Home Office is deterring people from reporting to police.
A senior Tory MP said people who have suffered crimes are being made “victims twice over”.
The policing inspectorate has previously said domestic abuse victims should not be reported to immigration unless there is clear evidence of an immigration offence.
However, the Home Office disagreed.
Nicole Jacobs, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, told The Detail that victims were being forced to stay with their abusers because they were too scared to contact police.
“It is extremely concerning to see these statistics that show that every police force across England and Wales has shared details from migrant survivors of domestic abuse with immigration officials,” she said.
“This puts victims in danger forcing them to either stay with abusers, opt for destitution or face being deported.”
The Metropolitan Police Service had the highest number of referrals (460), followed by West Midlands Police (222), Police Scotland (207), West Yorkshire Police (143), and Greater Manchester Police (132).
However, in 126 cases - almost 1 in 20 - there is no information on which police force made the referral.
The Home Office blamed the lack of information on a recording error.
A total of 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, and 631 victims of unspecified crimes were reported to the Home Office.
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.
Last month, a migrant victim of Met police rapist David Carrick said he threatened her with deportation, as part of the abuse she suffered.
“He knew how to manipulate me. He was always threatening me and telling me, ‘I’m a policeman and I’m going to deport you if you don’t do what I want’,” the Brazilian native told the British tabloid The Sunday People.
The Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS), which has been supporting migrant women in London for almost four decades, told The Detail it is deeply concerned by the sharing of data.
Elizabeth Jiménez-Yáñez, LAWRS’s policy and communications coordinator, said that a study by the charity found that half of migrant women suffering domestic violence were more afraid of police than their abuser.
Ms Jiménez-Yáñez said migrant victims had hugely varied experiences of interacting with police.
“You can end up with a police officer who calls immigration enforcement right in front of you, but you can also end up with a police officer that understands domestic abuse and immigration status, and they refer the victims to us for support,” she said.
“And we help them to find their immigration status in a safe way, because we do this through solicitors, we do this with the victim informed about their rights, we do this by accompanying the victim rather than just having a referral that can trigger an immigration enforcement action.”
LAWRS supported one victim, Maria*, who came from Latin America to the UK after her partner convinced her that she and their child could stay on a visitor visa.
Once in the country, he refused to apply for permanent residency for them.
After six months, Maria and her child had overstayed their visa, putting them at risk of deportation.
Over the following months, her partner began to physically abuse Maria. Because of her immigration status she could not work and became dependent on him for food and money, which he often did not provide. He also made Maria and her child sleep on the floor.
With the support of LAWRS, Maria reported her abuser to police.
However, a few days later police told Maria’s caseworker that they had shared her details with the Home Office, putting her at risk of deportation.
LAWRS said they have asked police forces to introduce new policies which mean that vulnerable female migrants are referred to specialist groups for support, rather than be reported to immigration enforcement.
“Some local police forces are considering doing this, because they understand the vulnerability created by immigration status,” Ms Jiménez-Yáñez said.
Southall Black Sisters, a London-based charity which has campaigned on this issue for years, said they have seen many cases of migrant victims being terrified into silence and abusers exploiting the fear of being deported if a victim reports crimes to the police.
The cases include a woman who escaped female genital mutilation (FGM) in Nigeria and came to live with a relative in the in the UK, only to be kept prisoner and forced to undergo FGM.
Although she wanted to escape, she was too frightened to call police after her visa expired.
Another migrant in the UK was abused by her husband who told her she would be deported and separated from her child if she contacted police.
In 2020 the Met police was ordered to pay £15,500 in compensation to a child slavery victim when, instead of interviewing him as a potential victim of modern slavery, the police called the Home Office and had him arrested under immigration powers.
Ahmed Aydeed, a solicitor from UK law firm Duncan Lewis, represented the victim in the case.
“The act of trafficking leaves victims extremely vulnerable and often leads to victims being distrustful of authorities," he told The Detail.
"This distrust of authorities is used by traffickers to control victims, particularly by threatening victims that they will be reported to immigration enforcement, detained and removed if they come to the attention of the police."
He described the data-sharing policy as "regressive" and said it "increases the control traffickers have over their victims, discourages victims from reporting their traffickers and provides immunity to these criminal gangs".
Human rights groups have repeatedly called for an information firewall between police forces and the Home Office, meaning that migrants’ details would not be shared with immigration officials.
The Westminster Justice Committee’s report on the draft Victims’ Bill stated that much of the evidence it received “focused on the reluctance of victims with insecure immigration status to report a crime or seek support for fear of statutory agencies sharing their data with Immigration Enforcement”.
Sir Bob Neill, a Conservative MP and chair of the Justice Committee, said that the data given to The Detail by the Home Office “reinforces our concerns about this practice”.
"We believed when we made our report that the practice was widespread and it was a problem, and this tends to confirm that,” he said.
"It's quite wrong to pass on immigration status when someone is the victim of violence, domestic abuse, trafficking, anything of that kind. It's making them victims twice over.
"It may well be that the immigration breach is trivial compared with the crime."
The Home Office has repeatedly rejected calls for a firewall.
A review by the department in 2021 suggested that victims’ and witnesses’ details should not be shared during criminal proceedings but could be passed on after a case ends.
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner is among those who have called for a firewall.
Ms Jacobs told The Detail: “All victims must be able to report domestic abuse safely.”
“I renewed my appeal to Government to create a firewall in our report Safety Before Status: The Solutions when it was published in December,” she said.
“I hope the government will accept this recommendation when it responds to my office in the near future.”
Lara ten Caten, from UK human rights charity Liberty, said “many people are afraid to report crimes to the police”.
“It's clear that the Home Office don’t understand the impact that sharing this data has on victims and witnesses of crime. In 2020, the police inspectorate said that there was ‘no evidence that sharing of personal victim data between the police and the Home Office supports safeguarding of victims of domestic abuse’,” she said.
“They recommended that the police should immediately stop sharing the details of victims of domestic abuse. The police ignored the inspectorate’s recommendation and continued to share the data of domestic abuse victims with the Home Office, putting victims at risk of deportation if they speak out about the abuse they are facing.”
A spokesman for the Home Office said: “We are committed to supporting all victims of domestic abuse, regardless of their immigration status.”
“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,” he said.
Guidelines from the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) state that police should not look up databases only to check a victim’s immigration status.
Assistant Chief Constable Jim Pearce, from the NPCC, told The Detail: “When someone reports a crime police will always, first and foremost, treat them as a victim.”
He added: “If an officer becomes aware that a victim of crime is suspected of being an illegal immigrant, it is right that they should raise this with immigration enforcement officers and not take any immigration enforcement action themselves.”
Every force in the UK was contacted for comment.
All the forces in England and Wales who responded to a request for comment referred The Detail to the NPCC.
Police Scotland did not respond.
A PSNI spokesperson said: “We understand that this is an issue of real concern for those in our communities, who we are committed to keeping safe, that is why we are listening and responding to these issues.”
This investigation was carried out with Vikram Dodd of the Guardian