Sanwar Ali comment:
Sharing data with the UK visa authorities has resulted in injustice in the past. There have been numerous news reports about the hostile environment policy towards immigrants. From past experience sharing data with UK Visa and Immigration will result in people unfairly having to leave the Country.
Met police want to revive the policy of sharing victims of crime data with UK Visa and Immigration authorities. Scotland Yard has outlined a new plan that will resume the highly controversial practice of passing information on victims of crime – including domestic and sexual violence offences – to the UK Visa and Immigration department at the Home Office.
Following a legal challenge in 2018, a previous agreement between the police and the Home Office was ended.
At the time of the decision, agreed by police chiefs in England and Wales, officers were prohibited from checking the police national database purely to see if a person had leave to remain in the UK, and then passing that information to UK visa authorities.
The measure to end the passing on of UK visa status information to the Home Office was taken because police were deemed to be ‘too close to deportation authorities.’
New policy outlined which may result in illegal immigrant deportations
However, it’s understood that a new policy has been outlined with a view to continuing the controversial measure, with new guidance issued that’s very similar to the previous policy that ended last year.
The bid to revive the contentious measure has been met with a fresh legal challenge by Southall Black Sisters and a domestic abuse victim, represented by the human rights group, Liberty.
The legal challenge was launched in an effort to stop police from sharing information about people allegedly in the UK illegally with deportation authorities, if they came forward as victims or witnesses of crime.
Those challenging the practice claim that the fight against crime, along with public safety, is severely undermined if suspected illegal immigrants are handed over after coming forward as a victim of, or witness to, a crime. Equally, it could mean individuals won’t come forward and face being subjected to continuous abuse or forced to commit crimes.
Victims not reporting incidents fearing immigration enforcement
Among those bringing the legal challenge against the Met is a victim of violent and sexual domestic abuse. The victim, who remains anonymous, revealed how her husband threatened to kill her, but she never reported him, fearing that police would report her to the Home Office.
She was scared of being detained and facing the possibility of deportation to her home country, where she would likely be persecuted because of the failure of her marriage.
The victim, known as Aisha (not her real name), arrived in the UK legally and worked in Britain for many years. However, partly as a result of her abusive husband, Aisha is currently deemed to have overstayed beyond the validity of her UK visa.
She said: “I was really frightened about what might happen to me. I worry that he is now so angry that he might just kill me as he has threatened to do. If I was not worried about the Home Office being told about me, I would contact the police as I am so scared of him. But I am stuck now.”
On 11 August a redrafted version of the policy, called “vulnerable victims and witnesses with insecure immigration status”, was finalised. Three days later on 14 August, it was launched.
The Met’s new policy states: “Where police are investigating a crime, and during that investigation, whether on the initial report or subsequently, it becomes apparent that the victim/witness is also suspected of being an illegal immigrant, it is wholly appropriate that the officer in the case should contact immigration enforcement.”
Liberty lawyer, Debaleena Dasgupta, said: “The Met is failing to protect victims of crime. Unless a data-sharing policy ensures all victims can seek police protection and report crimes without fear of UK immigration enforcement, it risks being unlawful.
“We hope the Met will withdraw this policy and replace it with one that allows victims to access their protection and seek justice,” Dasgupta added.
Updated policy on sharing information on immigrants is unlawful according to Liberty
In a letter written to the Met, Liberty insists that the ‘updated policy remains unlawful on exactly the same grounds as the previous one.’
Court documents issued to the Met, from Liberty, state: “The policy sends a clear indication to investigating police officers that they should inform HOIE [Home Office Immigration Enforcement] of a suspicion that a victim is an illegal immigrant - in other words - that passing this information on is mandatory.”
Director of Southall Black Sisters, Pragna Patel, revealed how she had worked with ‘countless’ women who fear leaving their abusive partners and seeking police protection because they’re scared of being reported to the Home Office.
Patel said: “It’s time for the Met to decide who it serves – it can’t serve both the public and the Home Office at the same time, since this leads to a conflict in duties and in discriminatory outcomes for abused migrant women.”
“The Met Police and indeed other police forces across the UK must do the right thing and separate from the UK immigration enforcement arm of the state,” Patel added.
Super-complaint under investigation
Police watchdogs are currently investigating a super-complaint, filed concerning the passing of data on victims, to UK Visa and Immigration enforcement authorities.
The HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, the Independent Office for Police Conduct, and the College of Policing are carrying out the investigation, which could lead to a recommendation that police forces across the UK change their policies or working practices.
Dasgupta said: “Long-term, the government must implement permanent separation between all essential frontline services and immigration enforcement so everyone can access support free from fear.”
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