As the Nationality and Borders Bill went to the House of Lords – the U.K. parliament’s upper house – for debate this week, new data gathered by the Scottish Refugee Council exposed how the U.K. government’s punitive approach to immigration revictimizes trafficking survivors from abroad.
Confirmed trafficking survivors face deportation
Data from the last five years shows a dismally low 7% of confirmed trafficking survivors in the U.K. have been given the right to remain in the country, a critical component to recovery. Out of 6,066 confirmed cases, only 447 individuals were granted secure immigration status with the majority having their applications rejected and the remainder of the cases still pending.
Without the right to remain in the U.K., confirmed survivors from abroad face deportation to their countries of origin. The Guardian reports “charities have documented that some of those removed from the U.K. and returned to their home countries have fallen back into the hands of their traffickers or have been vulnerable to being picked up by new traffickers”.
Opposition from the High Court
A landmark ruling in October 2021 from the High Court stated that trafficking survivors seeking asylum should be automatically granted leave to remain in the U.K., a decision that could impact thousands of trafficking survivors in legal limbo without the ability to work, study or access the benefits and support they need to recover from their experiences.
Ahmed Aydeed of Duncan Lewis Solicitors who brought the case explained why the new data is alarming:
Victims of trafficking, experience a profound loss of their sense of safety and security. A reliably safe environment is a pre-requisite for recovery. By refusing, en masse it seems, leave to remain to victims, the home secretary is re-traumatising survivors and putting them at risk of being re-trafficked.
New immigration bill set to undermine trafficking survivors’ rights
This concerning new data released as the controversial Nationality and Borders Bill is debated is significant given the measures in the bill that further undermine trafficking survivors’ rights under international standards.
Section 4 of the Nationality and Borders Bill seeks to punish trafficking survivors for “late disclosure” of their exploitation, assessing the credibility of people’s claims based on whether they submit evidence of their exploitation within a specific timeframe. The complexity of people’s experiences of trafficking coupled with a hostile immigration regime means that many will not be able to, or may choose not to, disclose their exploitation until they feel it is safe for them to do so.
Furthermore, trafficking survivors from abroad face being disqualified from protection under the National Referral Mechanism, the U.K.’s system for identifying and supporting survivors, if they have been sentenced to 12 months or more of prison time anywhere in the world. This incarceration period that would disqualify survivors from protection would still apply if individuals had been convicted of crimes they were forced to commit as a result of their exploitation.
Notably, “48% of all identified victims in 2020 had elements of criminal exploitation in their cases” indicating the damage that could be caused to a large portion of trafficking survivors under this clause.
It is evident that the protection of survivors’ rights and the U.K.’s obligations under international law are being sidelined in favor of pursuing draconian immigration policies that will further erode the human rights of some of the most sytematically marginalized in our communities.
Freedom United is urgently calling on the government to recognize that modern slavery is a human rights issue, not an immigration concern. Read our statement on the Nationality and Borders Bill here, and join the campaign calling for guaranteed statutory support for all trafficking survivors in the U.K.