Stop detaining survivors -

Stop detaining survivors

Freedom United campaign - Stop detaining survivors

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Detained survivors in prison-like settings

Alarmingly, survivors of modern slavery and trafficking are being detained in prison-like settings around the world. Their offense? Breaching immigration rules, often as a result of their exploitation.

In countries such as the U.K., U.S., and Australia,1 there’s not even a time limit on how long a survivor a can be held in immigration detention causing “immeasurable and unnecessary harm.”2

We’re urging governments to stop detaining survivors for not having secure immigration status and meet international standards designed to protect survivors from further trauma and re-victimization.

International standards

Under the Palermo Protocol on Trafficking, the non-punishment provision3 urges states to ensure survivors are not held in detention nor prosecuted for crimes they were forced to commit as a result of their exploitation.

Crossing a border, albeit without the right documents, doesn’t inherently make someone a risk to society. In fact, immigration rules are often what makes them vulnerable to exploitation – it allows traffickers to use the threat of detention to keep victims from seeking help.4

There is no justification for putting trafficking survivors behind bars when they have already been subject to a loss of liberty and severe exploitation. Yet, this is what is routinely happening to survivors.

Statistics of detained survivors

The U.S. Trafficking in Persons report 20205 outlined a disturbing global trend. Detention of trafficking victims for breaching immigration rules was recorded as an area for improvement in countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, the U.S., Mexico, the U.K., and others. In January 2021, Mexican authorities detained a Venezuelan victim of trafficking for sexual exploitation, without specialist support, for almost a month in a migrant detention center despite the country’s refugee agency being aware of the woman’s experience of trafficking.6

Detention of trafficking survivors is inhumane and risks seriously exacerbating survivors’ “physical, psychological and social recovery, it may also result in accumulative trauma, suicidal behavior, and post-traumatic stress disorder.”7 The U.N. Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons has explicitly called for potential and confirmed victims of trafficking to be removed from prison-like settings.8

Law enforcement has also expressed doubts on the necessity of immigration detention in the modern slavery context. Phil Brewer, former head of the U.K.’s Metropolitan Police Service’s Modern Slavery and Kidnap Unit, says “You do start questioning why we even bother criminalizing people with questionable immigration status, because what does it even achieve?”9

Data on the precise number of trafficking survivors being held in detention around the world isn’t always readily available. In fact, the U.K. government denied holding records of this data until freedom of information requests10 submitted by data-collecting project, After Exploitation, found that thousands of potential and confirmed trafficking victims had been detained and held in prison-like settings in the U.K. between January 2019 and September 2020.

And this number is expected to grow. Under new changes passed through Parliament without debate, survivors recognized as ‘potential trafficking victims’ by the U.K.’s Interior Ministry will not automatically be considered too ‘at risk’ to detain.

The new guidance will expect exploited people to give further evidence of ‘future harm’, via a medical professional, before they are recognized as too vulnerable to be held in prison-like settings. Survivors are at risk of being detained on an even wider scale, and for longer under these changes.

Not under our watch!

It is unacceptable that survivors are not only being denied the support they need to recover but are also having their freedom stripped away a second time.

We were disappointed to receive a letter11 from the U.K. government refusing to issue a ban on the detention of all trafficking survivors, ignoring clear recommendations from the U.N. Special Rapporteur on trafficking to “[ensure] that trafficked persons are not, in any circumstances, held in immigration detention or other forms of custody”.12

That same letter said, “This Government is committed to tackling the appalling crime of modern slavery; ensuring that victims are provided with the support they need.”13 Let’s build the momentum necessary to pressure the U.K. government, and others, to stand by their explicit commitments to tackle modern slavery and support survivors.

Sign the petition today and join the global call on governments to stop detaining trafficking survivors and release all potential and confirmed survivors from detention.

  • August 9, 2021: Dr. Jane Hunt exposes how immigration removal centers and immigration detention can have serious detrimental effects on a person’s mental and physical health, particularly when detention compounds traumatic experiences such as trafficking and torture. Read more here.

  • May 21, 2021:  A new report by Medical Justice and Bail Immigration for Detainees has uncovered how torture and trafficking victims have been locked up and subjected to solitary confinement. Read more here.


  • April 13, 2021: In the U.K.? Your MP has until April 22 to support an Early Day Motion to challenge the use of detention on potential modern slavery survivors. Write to your MP here!

  • March 26, 2021: We’ve signed a joint statement urging U.K. Members of Parliament to take action to protect modern slavery survivors from detention where they face retraumatization and are unable to recover from their experiences. Read the statement here.

Chip in and help end modern slavery once and for all.


Freedom United is interested in hearing from our community and welcomes relevant, informed comments, advice, and insights that advance the conversation around our campaigns and advocacy. We value inclusivity and respect within our community. To be approved, your comments should be civil.

stop icon A few things we do not tolerate: comments that promote discrimination, prejudice, racism, or xenophobia, as well as personal attacks or profanity. We screen submissions in order to create a space where the entire Freedom United community feels safe to express and exchange thoughtful opinions.

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D Fisher
D Fisher
3 years ago

Why would the United Kingdom be sympathetic towards these people when it’s wealth is based on exploitation and slavery .The UK will act with indifference especially when these people are people of color. The fact is that even people who came there legally to help in the rebuilding of the country after the 2nd world war are in danger of bein dishonorable deported as a thank you and repayment.
People who talk about human rights and do not practice it cannot be trusted.

Sukhy Chohan
Sukhy Chohan
3 years ago

Putting people who have suffered serious trauma need help, not to be sent to detention centres to be further punised or tortured mentally.

They need proper mental/physical health support and reintegration into society to rebuild their lives. Detention centres offer none of those things, they are often forgotten about beaten adding to the detainees suffering.

Government policies need to change to give greater access to support organisations to help those in need of help.

Annie Cass
Annie Cass
2 years ago

The practice of declaring somebody an “illegal immigrant” because they were kidnapped and used against their will is the ultimate betrayal.

Tara MacEachern
Tara MacEachern
3 years ago

These poor people who were trafficked here for criminal purposes do not deserve to be treated like the bad ones. He lease do all you can to change this. These people will have enough nightmares the rest of their lives let alone adding to it

Jessie Marshall
Jessie Marshall
3 years ago

Why try reasoning with slave traders, look at their histories

Ditch detention for modern slavery survivors


Help us reach 30,000

Dear Interior Minister,

 Survivors of modern slavery and trafficking are being detained in prison-like settings for breaching immigration rules as a result of their exploitation, subject to serious retraumatization, psychological distress and a continuation of their ordeal of exploitation, with no end in sight.

The UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons has explicitly called for potential and confirmed victims of trafficking to be removed from prison-like settings and urges states to abide by recommendations to not detain survivors for immigration offenses.

Yet, thousands of survivors are forced into revictimizing circumstances in detention centers around the world instead of being supported to recover from their experiences.

I’m urging you to stop detaining trafficking survivors and release all survivors from detention so that they may receive the support they desperately need.

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