What is the ‘Firewall’ in the Context of Migration?

Undocumented migrants who try to access essential services or want to report crimes and exploitation to authorities risk to be reported, detained or deported.

For instance, if they need to see a doctor, they risk that their data is shared with immigration authorities due to being undocumented. This prevents many undocumented migrants from accessing services.

The obligation to report undocumented migrants is usually justified in the name of tough immigration control, but comes at a heavy cost, undercutting our most basic ethical principles. These principles are reflected in professional standards, and in the legal frameworks states have signed up to, which guarantee the same fundamental rights to everyone, regardless of their nationality, background or immigration status. These include the rights to health, an adequate standard of living, housing, social security, and education, as well as fair working conditions and the right to a fair trial and legal redress.

Implementing a ‘firewall’ means to clearly separate access to services and justice from immigration law enforcement. An effective ‘firewall’ would mean undocumented migrants can go to a doctor and their data is not shared with authorities; they can report exploitation at the work place without the risk to be reported to immigration officials for being undocumented and they can safely report crimes to the police without being arrested.

The “firewall” has been defined by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) of the Council of Europe as a way to “prevent, both in law and practice, state and private sectors actors from effectively denying human rights to irregularly present migrants by clearly prohibiting the sharing of personal data of, or other information about, migrants suspected of irregular presence or work with the immigration authorities for the purpose of immigration control and enforcement.”