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People with insecure immigration status 'feel unable to come forward and report crimes'

A new report says that stigma, fear that their testimony will not be believed, and concern about the consequences of reporting abuse can deter people with no recourse to public funds from seeking help.

10/01/22

People with insecure immigration status 'feel unable to come forward and report crimes'

People with insecure immigration status or no recourse to public funds (NRPF) are facing additional barriers and deterrents to accessing support and reporting crimes, a new report from thinktank The Centre for Social Justice says.

The report says that domestic abuse and modern slavery are growing because victims feel unable to come forward because stigma, fear that their testimony will not be believed, and concern about the consequences of reporting abuse can deter individuals from seeking help.

The report looks at the shared experiences of the victims of these hidden crimes, to understand and compare the support available and the impact of immigration status and having no recourse to public funds, on recovery and the pursuit of justice.

The NRPF condition currently covers 1.4m people – including 175,000 children – and affects all non-UK nationals who enter the country on a limited leave to enter or remain visa, as well as overstayers and asylum seekers.

The report finds that a large number of domestic abuse and modern slavery victims are invisible to the system due to the hidden nature of the crimes they have endured, and that having no recourse to public funds limits the ability of victims to report the crime and access the support they need to escape the situation of abuse and exploitation.
There are specialist support avenues available for victims with no recourse to public funds, however these “fall short of a comprehensive framework that would enable victims to escape their abuse, rebuild their lives in safety and help bring their abusers to justice,” the report said.

Accommodation was found to be a large barrier to support as getting access to emergency accommodation for victims poses extra challenges if they have no recourse to public funds.

The NRPF conditions means that a person is not eligible for local authority housing, so victims are required to first self-identify as a victim of modern slavery or domestic abuse.

For victims of MS, accommodation can be available during the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) process, but many victims are reluctant to engage with the system because they fear the authorities.
“Stakeholders have repeatedly told us that victims need time and space to make an informed decision about whether to enter the NRM, yet no accommodation is available for victims with NRPF to allow them time to consider their options prior to a referral (unless they have sought asylum),” the report states.

“Accommodation is also not routinely available for [modern slavery] victims until they receive a positive first stage (‘reasonable grounds’ decision) under the NRM, unless the victim is considered destitute or eligible for asylum accommodation.”

Although guidance says that asylum-seeking victims should be accommodated in a safe house following a risk assessment, a majority appear are housed in unsuitable asylum accommodation and receive only outreach support.

Research has highlighted concerns about significant numbers of MS victims living in unsuitable asylum accommodation, often with multiple occupancy and mixed genders, which can be especially distressing for victims of sexual exploitation and those that have suffered trauma.
Read more: https://www.socialworktoday.co.uk/News/Majority-of-victims-of-trafficking-forced-into-unsafe-housing-by-support-providers

The report also found that even where they are eligible, victims with NRPF are often nervous about accessing public services out of fear that their immigration data will be collected and shared with the authorities.

Citing the Nationality and Borders Bill as an example, the authors argue that rhetoric around ‘strong border control’ and abuse of protection systems by individuals trying to bypass immigration rules deters victims from coming forward and undermines efforts to safeguard them.

As a result of the report, the Centre for Social Justice says victims need to be empowered and supported to report their abuse and to access services, and have recommended that the Chancellor establishes an annual central ‘NRPF safeguarding fund’ for local authorities to bid into, based on the need in their area.

Also recommended is the introduction of an ‘information firewall’ between immigration authorities and police and other services to stop data sharing being weaponised against survivors with insecure immigration status.

“When victims can be more certain about their future outside of slavery or domestic abuse, they are
more likely to cooperate with the police and report crime. A greater number of perpetrators and traffickers would be apprehended, which would reduce costs and reduce the number of potential victims, as well. Fewer survivors would develop serious needs or slip back into exploitation and trafficking,” the authors said.

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