Survivors of modern slavery and a coalition of anti-trafficking organizations, including Freedom United, are delivering a petition with more than 60,000 messages to 10 Downing Street today, demanding that the UK government back a law to expand support for victims.
The proposed bill — the UK Victim Support Bill — would guarantee that survivors receive help accessing housing and healthcare, as well as allow foreign victims to stay in Britain for year while they get back on their feet.
Currently, the government only gives foreign victims 45 days to remain in the country. Yet campaigners point out that this is far too short of a recovery period and risks deporting victims back to the very countries from which they were trafficked.
“We’re joining survivors of modern slavery, who under the current system are left struggling to recover,” said Freedom United Executive Director Joanna Ewart-James.
“Together with tens of thousands of messages of solidarity from Freedom United supporters and others, we are asking why the government’s pledge to tackle slavery isn’t backed up with the care needed for survivors to recover?”
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports:
Campaigners said they would deliver 60,000 messages on Thursday including signatures collected on a Freedom United petition backing the bill to Britain’s Home Office (interior ministry) and Prime Minister Theresa May’s residence.
The bill was put forward by parliament’s unelected upper chamber in 2017 but is now in limbo in the lower house, said Gleich, a policy expert, who urged the government to ensure it is debated rather than letting it drop off the radar for good.
Several activists told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that they believe the government fears allowing slavery victims to stay in Britain for a year because this could attract more migrants to the country as it cracks down on immigration.
“The government has done a lot to tackle modern slavery in recent years, but unfortunately the focus on supporting the victims of this heinous crime has been missing,” said Anna Sereni, a researcher with Anti-Slavery International.
“As a result, survivors get caught up in a system that is ineffective at best and all too often outright hostile to them.”
At least 7,000 suspected victims of modern slavery were identified last year, marking a third of an increase from 2017, and both survivors and activists are concerned the government is not ready to assist the growing number of victims.
“Providing victims with adequate support is not just the right thing to do for their recovery, it is also essential if we are to bring traffickers to justice and prevent them exploiting others in the future,” said Louise Gleich of the charity CARE.
“Without protection, support and stability, victims cannot give evidence to police and courts meaning traffickers go free and the cycle of exploitation continues.”