The U.K. Home Office has taken the shocking decision to remove modern slavery from the remit of the safeguarding minister and place it under the immigration minister’s brief, classed as an “illegal immigration and asylum” issue.
The U.K. is not prioritizing modern slavery
Treating modern slavery as an immigration issue not only ignores domestic victims of trafficking but sends a clear message that the U.K. government has no interest in protecting and supporting survivors. This is further evidenced by the fact the government has yet to replace the post of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner since Dame Sara Thornton left in April this year though it is a legal requirement as mandated by the 2015 Modern Slavery Act.
Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, said:
“The evidence shows the majority of exploitation takes place in the UK rather than across borders. […] The government should be treating this as an enforcement and safeguarding issue and taking stronger action against the crime of modern slavery wherever it takes place.”
By characterising modern slavery as an immigration related issue, British victims risk being overlooked. This is particularly concerning given that most new trafficking referrals since 2017 are for U.K. victims.
The new Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, has made a series of alarming and misinformed assertions in recent weeks, claiming that modern slavery laws are being “gamed”. In fact, 97% of referrals in the first half of this year to the National Referral Mechanism, the system through which trafficking victims are identified and supported, were confirmed as genuine.
Head of Policy at labor rights organisation Focus on Labour Exploitation, Kate Roberts, told the Guardian:
“Modern slavery is a serious crime which is carried out against individuals and to see it as an immigration matter is wrong and is risky.
Preventing and addressing modern slavery should take a person centred approach – starting with safeguarding and ensuring the rights of potential victims. While restricted or insecure immigration status can be abused by exploiters who use immigration detention as a threat against seeking help from the authorities, this is only one of many tools traffickers use, as evidenced by the fact that many British people are victims of trafficking.”
Modern slavery victims are victims of crime whose human rights have been abused. They should be provided with the care and support that they are entitled to under international standards. The conflation of modern slavery with immigration offences by the government is indicative of its intention to undermine the already inconsistent but crucial support available for survivors.