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Survivors of modern slavery in the U.K. endangered by immigration policies

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Law & Policy

Freedom United marked U.K. Anti-Slavery Day by calling for a commitment to ensure that victims of trafficking do not face punitive immigration control measures if they come forward for support, joining 50 other advocates, researchers and experts.

Writing in Thomson Reuters Foundation this week, Maya Esslemont, director of After Exploitation, has highlighted how the U.K. is subjecting modern slavery survivors who seek help to harmful immigration controls rather than support.

In 2019, 1,256 potential trafficking victims, many of whom will go on to be recognized as confirmed victims, were held in prison like detention centers due to their immigration status – while only 35 traffickers were convicted in the same period.

As Ms. Esslemont writes, the U.K. is essentially holding more survivors than perpetrators behind bars.

By prioritizing a focus on immigration control rather than victim support, the U.K.’s approach to modern slavery is playing directly into the hands of traffickers, who have long been known to use the threat of detention and forced removal to ensure compliance from those they abuse.

Worryingly, traffickers will also be emboldened by proposed policies to prejudge asylum claims on the basis of the time at which they are made, or the route by which the claimant arrived

Any reform to the U.K.’s immigration system must remedy, rather than entrench, the wrongs committed against survivors of modern slavery.

As Ms. Esslemont writes, we must challenge the narrative that tougher borders prevent trafficking, which fails to recognize that trafficking is made profitable through a lack of safe and legal routes and made sustainable through policies which deter victims from seeking help.

The UK has played a crucial role in sounding the alarm on this heinous crime, at home and on a global stage, with the passage of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. However, without action, traffickers will continue to benefit from hostile immigration policies.

To protect survivors from these punitive, dangerous immigration controls, it is crucial that the government provide at least 12 months’ support and immigration protection for survivors, as outlined in the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill.

You have the power to help pressure the U.K. government into ensuring that all survivors are adequately supported and protected from immigration controls.

Join over 80,000 others and sign Freedom United’s petition calling on the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill to become law here.

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

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