20th Mar 2018


Crime reported, victim deported

The European Parliament is currently discussing the EU victim’s rights directive. This directive aims to ensure that victims of crime have the same level of protection, support and access to justice in all EU countries and improves many areas of victim protection.

But the proposed text misses the vital opportunity to put in place specific safeguards that would make protection and legal remedies practically accessible for migrants without residence permits and to address their specific vulnerability.

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  • Irregular migrants are often left defenceless, unprotected and unable to seek justice. (Photo: Human Rights Watch)

In Europe today there are victims of rape, torture, domestic violence, physical assault and injury, and child abuse who are forced to suffer in silence and are left without the ability to seek protection and safety. Unfortunately, for many of the estimated 3.8 million undocumented migrants living in Europe, this is a reality.

Unauthorised migration status not only makes them disproportionately vulnerable to abuse and assaults but also leaves them at risk of arrest and deportation if they report a crime to the police.

Because of the fear of being arrested and deported, Lisa, who is 33 and lives in the UK with her daughter Mary (names have been changed), suffered violence from her husband for years.

“He hasn’t made me legal […] because mentally he likes to control me. He hit and, really, everything, from pushing against the wall, putting his hands on my neck […] He was very violent and it got worse and worse. He would call me a whore in front of my child. I was always scared of police, because he told me that, if you go to the police they will deport you. It was emotional blackmail, that they would take Mary away from me, because Mary is British and I would never see her again.”

Victims who are forced to suffer in silence are not only migrants in an irregular migration situation but also include those whose residence permit is dependent on a third person, such as an employer, spouse or another family member.

Dependency on the third person means irregular migrants are defenceless, unprotected and unable to seek justice. This is especially the case for female migrants. This dependency factor puts migrant women in an especially vulnerable position, creating a power imbalance that very often results in violence.

Victim support services are often not available for undocumented migrants. In some EU Member States, support structures, such as women’s shelters, may deny access to those with an irregular migration status and exclude a particularly vulnerable group of women from essential protection and support.

It is important to guarantee that funding for generalised or specific support services operated by NGOs, state or local authorities, does not specifically exclude certain groups of victims, such as migrants in an irregular situation.

The police should first and foremost be responsible for the safety and protection of persons and consequently, prevention, investigation and sanctioning of crime should take precedence over any proceedings concerning the migration status of the victim. Undocumented migrants are not only more likely to become victims of crime but they are highly vulnerable to further victimisation and intimidation, due to their irregular status.

In order to tackle this group’s vulnerability, and uphold the right to the security of a person recognised in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, safeguards, such as giving a temporary residence permit and closing of a deportation file, are essential. This would prevent irregular migrants from becoming a “zero risk victim” and help combating impunity.

The right to access to justice and to report a crime without fear of being arrested or deported must be guaranteed by law to all persons regardless of their status. Denying this right would mean turning a blind eye to the human rights of millions of migrants living and working in Europe and permit unscrupulous people to continue taking advantage of their vulnerability.

The writer is Advocacy Officer at the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM)

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