Victims of crime and exploitation

Victims of crime and exploitation

The C-MISE Guidance and the country reports of the Safe reporting project provide information on practices that municipalities across Europe have adopted to promote the reporting of crime and exploitation by victims and witnesses with irregular migration status living in their communities. These practices may offer a blueprint for other local authorities fighting the underreporting of crime among their migrant communities. 

Irregular migrants are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and being victims of crime including labour exploitation, trafficking and domestic violence, because of their limited ability to obtain support from law enforcement authorities. Beyond cultural and linguistic barriers, victims and witnesses of crime with an irregular migration status tend to refrain from reporting it to the police for fear of being arrested and deported. This is particularly true in countries where an irregular migration status is a crime under national law. Irregular migrants thus generally mistrust law enforcement authorities, which may translate into high levels of underreporting of crime in municipalities with a significant migrant population.

COMPAS’ Safe Reporting project, shed light on the risks for  crime victims with irregular migration status, and their limited possibilities in law and practice to report crime ‘safely’ in the United States and four EU countries. Under the EU Victims’ Directive, victims’ rights shall apply to victims in a non-discriminatory manner, independently of their residence status. In its Victims Strategy, the European Commission is set to assess legal and practical tools to improve reporting of crime and access to support services for migrant victims, independently of their residence status.

Municipal competences in relation to policing may be limited, yet municipal competences on ‘community safety’ and on local police bodies allows municipalities to take action to incentivise “safe reporting” practices. Local authorities have an interest in developing practices that enable local residents, irrespective of their migration status, to reach out to the local police as this reduces the risk of crime going unreported in their territory. At the same time, local police may better ensure public security by establishing safe and trusted interactions with all residents.

Municipalities can, for instance, coordinate with local law enforcement to ensure that migrants with irregular status use all available options in law to report crime to the local police without fear of deportation. Dutch municipalities have initiated the pratice of 'firewalls' and supported the adoption, at the national level, of ‘firewall’ policies through the ‘Free in, free out’ practice, a policy reassuring that migrants reporting a crime would not be arrested for immigration enforcement purposes when reaching out to the police to report crime. Municipalities may also engage in outreach and public campaigns informing migrants with irregular status of their entitlements to seek out the help of the local police, where possible without incurring the risk of deportation. Municipalities can also set-up dedicated local hubs, where migrant victims can seek safe advice on the available options to safely report crime and access protection and services locally. Municipalities have also been providing shelters for migrant victims escaping violence, as for instance has been often the case for situations of domestic violence, where reporting a crime is particularly challenging if the victim does not have access to a safe place to shelter from a situation of abuse. The long-standing practices of municipalities in North-America can also offer examples of good practices for European municipalities (see here).

If you want to learn more about local initiatives in this area, follow the link below and access the C-MISE Guidance (pages P43-48). For country-specific information on Belgium, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands or the United States, access the webpage of the Safe Reporting project.

For more information on the practices presented in the guidance or in the Safe reporting project, you can also contact the C-MISE team at: