Do Scottish people really have a great deal of sympathy for asylum seekers and refugees?

By Bill Heaney

Research by Billy Briggs of The Ferret

Scotland loves asylum seekers. Oh, really? You could have fooled me. I know my eyesight is not what it used to be, but are the Big Issue sellers I see outside M&S in St James’s Park or up in the High Street at the Co-op a figment of my admittedly fertile imagination?

Scottish people have a great deal of sympathy for refugees. Once again I have to say oh really?

The big question is do our police and public authorities, the pen pushers in the benefits offices and those people involved in allocating housing at West Dunbartonshire and other councils have any sympathy for these poor people, the mothers and children especially?

I don’t think so. Do you?

The most illuminating story on this vexed matter in the past few days has been in The Ferret, the investigative magazine which does what journalism is supposed to do.

That is to shine a light in dark corners where people in government – local and national – would rather we never saw.  Real news is something someone somewhere would rather not see in print.

The Ferret has a report by their investigations editor Billy Briggs which carried a bold headline which states ‘Police Scotland reported sexually exploited children to immigration enforcement’.

Your first reaction to this is probably ‘well, why shouldn’t they. It’s their job after all,’ but is it?

It’s not their job though. Sure, children who are wandering the streets alone, hungry and without a bed for the night should be looked after and taken into care, and the police should help with that. We should welcome it.

However, it is what happens next that is a disgrace and a national scandal and completely unacceptable.

Police Scotland reported sexually exploited children to immigration enforcementPolice Scotland reported over two hundred victims of crimes to Home Office immigration enforcement in a two year period, including sexually exploited children and women who’d been physically attacked and trafficked.

Those reported to the Home Office included 19 domestic abuse survivors, 87 trafficking victims, 43 people who suffered slavery, and five child victims of sexual exploitation. In total, Police Scotland reported 207 people to immigration enforcement.

And what did they do with them? Across the UK more than 2000 people were referred by police forces to immigration enforcement between May 2020 and September 2022. A quarter of the 451 domestic abuse victims referred were “served with enforcement papers”, meaning they faced deportation.

The people in question were “sexually exploited children and women who’d been physically attacked and trafficked”.

And what were we doing with them? Certainly not finding them a place to sleep in safety or a house to live in or a pot of steaming Scotch broth to warm them while they longed for  peace at last.

If a victim, witness or alleged perpetrator of a crime is reported to immigration enforcement, and that person is not able to prove their right to remain in Scotland, immigration enforcement can request that Police Scotland detain them.

And then the cruel, callous process begins to deport them.

Campaigners said the figures were “shocking” and reinforced a “legitimate fear” in migrant victims of domestic violence, trafficking and rape of reporting such crimes to the police.

Critics said Police Scotland should follow the example of NHS Scotland, which said it will not share details of patients with the Home Office. That they should not be passing on information to the Home Office, headed up by the notorious Home Secretary Suella Braverman.

Asked about this, Police Scotland said there are a number of “legitimate reasons” why it contacts the Home Office regarding victims of crime, which include “safeguarding”.

The Home Office said that “stopping information sharing” can impact law enforcement agencies’ ability to support victims.

From from 2020 to 2022, more than 2,000 victims of serious crime were reported by UK police forces to immigration enforcement.

They included 785 victims of modern day slavery; 618 victims of human trafficking; 451 victims of domestic abuse; 75 victims of child sexual exploitation; 60 victims of sexual exploitation; 20 victims of forced marriage; 20 victims of labour exploitation; 12 victims of domestic servitude.

Domestic servitude? Can you believe that in 2023 that there are people in this world who are victims of domestic servitude?

Critics said Police Scotland should follow the example of NHS Scotland, which said it will not share details of patients with the Home Office.

Scottish Refugee Council policy manager Graham O’Neill said there should be a “legal firewall on immigration status between police forces and Home office immigration enforcement in all cases of serious abuse victims” including trafficking and slavery survivors.

“Police Scotland must immediately stop passing or checking immigration status information with the Home Office in respect of victims or witnesses of crimes, who may have insecure immigration status,” he added.

“This is an ethical policy matter. It is also essential that police gain and maintain the trust of vulnerable victims to enable them to detect the real criminals orchestrating the exploitation.”

Dr Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, said she was “seriously dismayed” to find that women and children experiencing domestic abuse are “re-victimised” by institutions that are supposed to protect them.

“Given that a high number of women who have fled to the UK have done so because of experiences of gender-based violence in their home countries, it is abhorrent that our immigration system forces women to choose between staying with abusers or deportation or investigation.”

Detective superintendent Fil Capaldi of Police Scotland said: “We are victim centred in our approach and treat all reports of crimes seriously. We are committed to supporting all victims of crime, regardless of their immigration status and would encourage them to come forward and report the circumstances, in confidence, knowing we will investigate thoroughly.

“Our priority is keeping people safe and ensuring that victims have fair and equal access to services and that they are treated with dignity and respect at all times, regardless of their background. We always ensure that victims of crime are given access to specialist support from partnership organisations.”

A spokesperson for Scotland’s SNP government said the role played by Police Scotland in assisting the Home Office with “custodial services for people suspected of immigration offences”, is an operational matter for the force.

Operational matter? What’s an operational matter? Is this scandal going to stop, or isn’t it? When will something be done about it? 

They added: “Asylum and immigration are entirely reserved to the UK Government. Scottish ministers have consistently and repeatedly raised concerns with the current system and urged UK ministers to reform the asylum and immigration system to be humane and dignified and fit for purpose, as well as raised a variety of other issues including detention.”

So, will they do something about this now?  To say it has nothing to do with them just isn’t true.

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