Putting Safety First

Everyone has the right to be protected from abuse, to receive assistance if they’ve been mistreated, and to feel safe and respected when they approach services or the authorities for help. This is essential to keep individuals and communities safe. It means that everyone feels equally protected and supported if they are victimised – by a spouse, an employer or a stranger.


Undocumented people have these rights. But how can these rights be realised if seeking help and reporting abuse risks being uprooted from their lives, detained and deported?


The structures in place to support and protect people who have been victimised need to work for everyone. We should all be able to count on the criminal justice system to protect us, no matter our background, and to investigate crimes committed against us. Every child or adult who faces violence or abuse should have access to help and justice without risking immigration detention and deportation.

Find out how this can be done below.

What can I do?

As a policy maker

Putting the safety and rights of victims first means ensuring that no one who comes forward to report crime faces immigration enforcement consequences as a result. This requires putting in place measures that protect victims who reach out to the authorities to seek help and justice from detention and deportation.


It also means recognising that victims’ rights are not just a matter of individual and public safety. They are also a matter of confidence in public institutions and their ability to protect communities, particularly those at greatest risk of mistreatment. Ensuring victims’ rights goes hand in hand with viewing communities – including diverse communities that include migrants – as partners and promoting efforts to raise awareness of rights and to build bridges of communication and trust, including through collaboration with community-based organisations.


Specific recommendations to national governments, police authorities and EU institutions are detailed in Insecure Justice? Residence Permits for Victims of Crime in Europe and Guide to the EU Victims’ Directive: Advancing Justice for Undocumented Migrants.

As a police officer

The ability to safely report crime to the police, without fear of immigration consequences, is necessary for ensuring access to justice and for protecting victims’ rights. It is also vital to building trust in communities, and for effective policing.


A growing number of cities around the world are recognising that criminalizing victims is counter-productive and are choosing to prioritise building constructive relationships with migrant communities, rather than diverting energy and resources to immigration enforcement activities. Just as a woman who is reporting assault is not questioned about whether she has filed her taxes or paid all her parking tickets, she is not questioned about her residence status. She is treated as a victim and provided with the full support she is entitled to.


There are several things that law enforcement can do to promote the reporting of crime and smart policing.

  • Avoid detection practices – like identity checks, workplace inspections, large-scale raids, searches in places of accommodation, and the policing of sites where migrants are likely to be present – that discourage safe reporting and the use of essential public services, and refrain from racial profiling.


  • Follow the lead of cities like Amsterdam, Chicago and New York by creating clear policies preventing police officers from asking victims and witnesses about their immigration status and preventing the reporting of their status to immigration authorities, should it become known.


  • Provide training to improve officers’ awareness of victims’ rights under EU and national law and of how to respond appropriately to the needs of undocumented victims and diverse communities.


  • Develop a network of organisations to which undocumented victims can be referred for support and assistance, recognising that the police can play an important role, in partnership with civil society, in referring undocumented victims of crime to specialised and support services. To do this effectively, they must become familiar with the needs of these communities and with key national and local organisations able to provide the advice, representation, counselling, or other assistance required.


For additional information, see The Rights of Undocumented Victims: What to Know If You’re a Police Officer.

As a women’s rights organisation or shelter

Undocumented women who have survived or witnessed abuse face big hurdles not only in reporting these incidents to the authorities, but also in accessing women’s shelters, counselling, legal advice and other services.

This is often because of laws that limit or deny undocumented women’s right to benefit from some services, funding mechanisms that restrict service providers’ ability to provide inclusive access, and discriminatory practices.


Legislation backing the right to access shelters is critical for undocumented victims. Most shelters depend on the payment of housing benefits to cover accommodation. But because undocumented people are often denied a legal income and have no recourse to public funds, shelters do not have a guarantee that their stay will be reimbursed. And their lack of access to the housing and labour market means they are more likely to require long-term support.


Women’s organisations and women’s shelters can promote undocumented women’s safety and rights by:

  • Joining the struggles of migrant women and embracing an intersectional agenda that empowers undocumented women by supporting their cause and their rights, as well as their efforts to organise and to mobilise.
  • Empowering women’s organisations to provide quality and equitable services to all women and ensuring that they are informed of the specific challenges faced by undocumented women.
  • Lobbying decision makers in their locality, region or country to meet their obligations to ensure adequate funding for organisations that support survivors of violence and to create mechanisms for more inclusive and non-discriminatory funding not linked to residence or other status.
  • Urging their government to create legal avenues for women to obtain, or to retain, residence status so that being or becoming undocumented is not a barrier to safety.
  • Creating alliances between organisations supporting undocumented women and feminist organisations to foster greater solidarity and mutual understanding, and to align core messages and advocacy.
  • Pushing for your national government to ratify the Istanbul Convention, if it has not, or, if it has, to implement its provisions in a non-discriminatory way to end violence against all women, whatever their migration status.
  • Taking action at the local level to raise awareness of undocumented women’s rights and to challenge discriminatory attitudes and conduct.


For additional information, see The Rights of Undocumented Victims: What to Know If You’re a Women’s Organisation, Shelter or Service Provider.

As a victims’ rights organisation or service provider

Civil society has a critical role to play in putting undocumented victims of crime in touch with, or providing, specialised and support services – particularly in the case of undocumented victims who choose not to report a crime, who will therefore not have contact with the criminal justice system.


It is critical for organisations that support victims – whether victims support organisations, women’s organisations, organisations working with migrants or others – coordinate and cooperate to ensure timely, adequate and appropriate responses to victims’ needs.


Victims’ support organisations often work closely with law enforcement to facilitate referrals. It is essential that, in seeking to support and assist victims, they be aware of the particular vulnerabilities faced by victims who are undocumented or who have insecure residence status, and the risks they face of possible immigration consequences if personal information is shared with law enforcement authorities. Victims’ personal information should never be shared with law enforcement authorities without their knowledge or consent.

 Would you like to know more?

Why are some people undocumented?

Someone is “undocumented” when they do not have a current authorisation to be in the country, even if they have been living and working in the country for many years. People can become undocumented in many different circumstances. For instance, when a study or work visa is revoked or runs out or when an asylum claim is refused. Some visas depend on being in a particular relationship and if that relationship breaks down – for instance in cases of domestic violence or in workplace exploitation – they may no longer be allowed to stay, even if there was a situation of abuse. Many have had a work permit that has expired because they lost their job, or their employer didn’t renew it.

Why do undocumented victims face a risk of deportation when they report crime, and why does this harm them?

Governments issue legal decisions requiring a person to leave the territory when they decide that person does not have or no longer has permission to stay in the country. Sometimes law enforcement has a legal obligation to enforce these decisions, or to notify immigration authorities when they come into contact with a person who may be undocumented. Sometimes they don’t have this legal obligation but do so anyway.


The result is that people who are undocumented, or who do not have a stable residence permit, often view the police with fear, not with confidence. They know that going to the police for help may lead to lead to arrest and possible deportation, rather than to assistance.


The enforcement of immigration rules against people who report crime leads to crimes going unreported. It also hinders the police in their ability to investigate crimes and means that people who prey on the most vulnerable go unprosecuted. Undocumented victims are therefore at greater risk of abuse – and repeat abuse. Perpetrators realise there are no consequences for their actions and can use a person’s insecure status to control and manipulate them, to convince them that they have no right to help, and to threaten deportation or separation from their families if they dare to report their mistreatment.

What is safe reporting?

Essential to ensuring access to justice is ensuring safe reporting. Safe reporting means prioritising the safety and rights of victims above the enforcement of immigration rules.


There is growing recognition of the vulnerability of migrant populations to crime as well as the obstacles they face in the criminal justice system, which can compromise individual safety as well as broader public safety goals.


Civil society organisations can act as bridges between the police and communities, helping to create relationships of trust and mutual understanding. This can in turn provide the foundation for a more collaborative approach that opens the way to safer reporting.


National or local laws and policies that criminalise people solely based on their residence status undermine this principle, and create confusion and uncertainty for police officers, who may be unsure of what to do in the face of apparently conflicting duties.


Removing the risk of immigration enforcement, by staying deportation orders or making it possible for a victim to obtain secure residence status, can help to encourage people to come forward. Legislation exists in every EU member state that gives some victims of crimes the possibility of secure residence status, as a way to promote safety and protection, and prevent re-victimisation.


The EU Fundamental Rights Agency has provided guidance to member states on specific steps they can take to ensure that immigration enforcement doesn’t undermine undocumented migrants’ fundamental rights, including the right to access justice – for instance, by making it possible for reporting to occur anonymously or semi-autonomously and for undocumented migrants to reach out to the police through intermediaries such as a specially designated official or organisations providing legal or humanitarian support.

Are there any examples of good practices in safe reporting?

There are several practices, at both the local and national levels, in Europe and around the world that promote the ability of people who are undocumented to come forward without fear to seek help and to report crime.


These practices include:

  • Empowering government agencies through information and training so they can support victims in accessing their rights.
  • Removing the risk of immigration enforcement for people who come forward, by staying deportations and providing avenues to obtain secure status.
  • Doing regular and proactive outreach to migrant communities to build trust and inform them of their rights.
  • Building coalitions with community-based organisations and working with them to raise awareness and to connect victims to relevant services.
  • Codifying the prioritisation of safety and protection measures ahead of immigration enforcement (“firewall”) in the response to complaints in official police policy.


For additional information: