Do you know what happens to survivors of trafficking in the UK? Are they safely housed and supported, or detained and deported? The Home Office has access to detailed records on the outcomes of modern slavery victims. For the sake of their wellbeing, it is vital that we make this information public, Maya Esslemont writes.
Modern slavery victims, including those who have been trafficked, are left with the legacy of serious emotional, physical or sexual abuse. The UK government has introduced measures to help victims receive support through a framework called the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), but little thought has been given to how a victim’s immigration status can affect their access to help.
Navigating the NRM can be a lengthy process, in which victims are asked to repeat and relive some of the most traumatic experiences of their lives with staff who work for an agency that is also responsible for enforcing immigration targets. At the end of this procedure, even if they are believed, undocumented victims do not receive any automatic protection from deportation or detention.
The Home Office introduced the Adults at Risk Policy in 2016, with the stated aim of reducing the number of vulnerable immigrants who are detained. However, multiple charities have reported a rise in referrals relating to vulnerable detainees – including trafficking victims – since the policy was introduced. Yet in the absence of research that uses bigger sample sizes, there has been little political action to address the problem of punitive immigration enforcement against undocumented victims of exploitation.
Hidden Data on Modern Slavery
Image Credit: Pxhere.
In July this year, the Home Office was accused by Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott of misleading MPs when it denied holding centralised information on the immigration outcomes of victims of modern slavery.
A month prior, former Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes told MPs: “There is no central record of those who have received a positive Conclusive Grounds decision and are detained under immigration powers.”
…hundreds were detained for varying periods of time, at a point when they were most in need of subsistence, psychological support and safe housing.
But research by data mapping project After Exploitation found that a system called the Case Information Database (CID) holds an abundance of data on the asylum outcomes, deportation, detention, and imprisonment of human trafficking victims. The data held on CID painted a concerning picture.
Our Freedom of Information (FOI) responses found that the Detention Gatekeeping safeguard, which is designed to prevent vulnerable people being detained, failed to spot 507 potential trafficking victims last year. As a result, hundreds were detained for varying periods of time, when they were most in need of subsistence, psychological support, and safe housing.
Worrying information continued to emerge. Further FOIs showed that more than half (53%) of potential trafficking victims who “voluntarily returned” were first held in immigration detention. Numerous charities voiced concerns over the prison-like settings in which victims of trafficking were expected to make decisions on their futures, while the government refused to acknowledge any problems with the use of detention or voluntary return.
A Frustrating Standstill
Image Credit: Unsplash.
Now we know that this data exists, we are at a frustrating standstill. We know that the Home Office holds highly detailed information on the outcomes of trafficking and modern slavery victims, which could help practitioners and policy makers develop reforms for the benefit of victims. However, it has also failed to answer important questions on the relationship between referrals and deportation, or the rejection rate of immigration claims such as asylum or humanitarian protection.
As volunteers, After Exploitation has done all it can to challenge these delay tactics, but we need to sustained public pressure in order to secure this much-needed data.
This Anti Slavery Day, join our campaign for data transparency. Without evidence to hold the government to account, it is impossible to make meaningful change to a system which penalises some of the UK’s most vulnerable victims of exploitation.
Featured Image Credit: Pxhere.
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