The U.K.’s controversial Nationality and Borders Bill, currently being debated in Parliament, has this week been criticized by senior police officers. Measures in the bill would set a time limit on when a person can disclose that they have experienced trafficking or exploitation. Late disclosure would thus prevent survivors from accessing support they would otherwise be entitled to.
This is problematic for a number of reasons, but most obviously, the complexity of human trafficking and modern slavery experiences means that it may take a person a long time to come to terms with their experiences and feel comfortable enough to disclose them to authorities.
Conflating migration and modern slavery
Alarmingly, the Nationality and Borders Bill demonstrates the government’s focus on creating a narrative in which people trying to access modern slavery support are doing so dishonestly. “They’re conflating immigration offending, migration issues, with modern slavery” said Caroline Haughey QC, a leading barrister who helped draft the U.K. modern slavery laws.
Furthermore, measures in the bill don’t take into account how survivors may have been criminalized for crimes they were forced to commit as a direct result of their exploitation. Any survivor who has been sentenced to prison for 12 months or more, anywhere in the world, also risks being denied access to modern slavery victim support in the U.K.
The Independent reports:
Chief Superintendent Paul Griffiths, president of the Police Superintendents’ Association who led Operation Imperial – a major investigation into modern slavery offences in the UK between 2013 and 16 – said giving victims time to disclose exploitation was crucial.
“This bill introduces time limits which could be disadvantageous to people who take a long time to reconcile their position. Their disclosure can be the first step towards getting evidence from them. Without that there won’t be any judicial processes,” he told The Independent.
Referencing one particular case, he said: “We dealt with a victim who quite literally didn’t realise, or accept, that they were a victim of forced labour for 18 months. Sometimes victims need time to build the confidence to provide evidence that can be used in prosecutions.”
This legislation, if passed, will only punish trafficking survivors, preventing individuals from accessing support necessary for their recovery, and will do nothing to increase prosecutions of traffickers.
Freedom United has joined 50+ leaders in the anti-slavery sector setting out our concerns on Part 4 of the Nationality and Borders Bill. Read our full statement here and join the campaign calling for guaranteed statutory support for all trafficking survivors here.