At a college in Barnsley, northern England, students discuss their experiences surviving sex trafficking, battling addictions, and the struggle to gain asylum in the UK.
The students are part of the pioneering Free Thinking program Northern College, which provides survivors of modern slavery with accommodation, meals, and lessons from computer skills and filmmaking to art and English for three days a week.
It’s become a lifesaver for many survivors as they gain an education to help them get back on their feet.
“The college is the one thing that gives me confidence, it’s my only sanctuary,” said Sunny, a 25-year-old from Pakistan who was raped by a couple she stayed with in the UK. “Without this course, I would just be alone – and suicidal.”
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports:
Yet these dozen students are the fortunate few as most foreign survivors are entitled to housing and healthcare but not education or the right to work while Britain decides whether to recognise them as slavery victims and offer further assistance.
About 5,145 possible victims were referred to the government last year – up a third from 2016 – yet activists say the system for processing and supporting survivors is tough to navigate, inconsistent, and leaves many in limbo for months or even years.
“All survivors should have access to education … not only to help them move on from their exploitation but to acclimatise to life in Britain,” said opposition lawmaker Stephanie Peacock, who has championed Northern College’s programme in parliament.
The college successfully piloted the 10-week course in June and is now in talks with the education ministry to help secure funding for each student — around 6,000 pounds ($7,727).
A spokeswoman from the education ministry confirmed that it wants to do everything it can to support survivors of slavery.
“Through our further education budget, we provide funding for colleges to teach a range of students, including people that may be vulnerable like asylum seekers and refugees,” she said.
Kate Roberts, head of the Human Trafficking Foundation, stressed that education is a big part of ensuring that trafficking survivors are not sucked back into exploitation.
“If you can’t speak, read and write English, or manage money, then you’re always going to struggle … to have to rely on other people.”