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

When people in an irregular situation try to access essential services or to report abuse or exploitation to the authorities, they risk being reported, detained and deported.

For them, the simple act of going to see the doctor can lead to their personal data being shared with immigration authorities, triggering immigration enforcement procedures.

The tendency to put the enforcement of immigration rules ahead of people’s fundamental rights prevents many people without regular status from accessing services. The human impact of such policies is borne by individuals, families, and the broader society. Illnesses go untreated, crimes go unprosecuted, children go unschooled, and impunity fuels the repeated victimisation of people in situations of vulnerability – who are denied justice, protection and assistance.

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 separating access to services and justice from immigration law enforcement. Where effective ‘firewall’ are in place, undocumented children can go to a doctor and their data is not shared with authorities; undocumented workers can report exploitation at the work place without the risk to be reported to immigration officials for being undocumented and undocumented survivors of violence 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.”


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