Thousands of victims are trafficked to the UK each year, exploited for forced labor or sexual exploitation.
For those that are able to escape, there is the National Referral Mechanism, a government scheme that aims to identify legitimate victims of modern slavery and provide rehabilitation support. Last year alone 5,145 people of 116 nationalities were referred to the NRM.
But for many survivors of trafficking, going through the NRM process is anything but straightforward.
Jennifer Edwards of Stop The Traffik explains in The Big Issue:
I know Elira from my day job supporting women who are seeking asylum in the UK. A number of these women have been trafficked from Albania predominantly for sexual exploitation and many have children as a result.
My role is to practically and emotionally support these women through the asylum process and the National Referral Mechanism. The NRM is a system employed by the Home Office to decide who they believe has and hasn’t been trafficked, this can then inform people’s asylum decisions.
If you are identified as potentially being trafficked you are referred into the NRM by a selected first responder who then refers to the competent authority, this should all be done with your consent. If you are also claiming asylum the competent authority and decision maker is the Home Office. Within five days you should receive a ‘reasonable grounds decision’ about whether there is enough reason to believe you have been trafficked.
If positive you enter the ‘recovery and reflection period’ which should last for 45 days. During this time you receive support which varies depending on your situation. Once you get your ‘conclusive decision’ this support stops. You may be granted up to one year residency, continue to wait for your asylum decision or just get a piece of paper confirming that you have been trafficked.
However, Edwards notes that “In reality these timescales are rarely adhered to and the consistency and quality of support seems to vary drastically.”
She says she is witness to how the UK’s ‘hostile environment’ takes a major toll on foreign victims of human trafficking, making it extremely difficult to gain asylum even when they fear being re-trafficked if deported.
“Elira has been waiting over two years for a decision, waiting for an NRM decision can severely delay your asylum claim. During that time she hasn’t been allowed to work, lives in no choice shared accommodation and receives £78.50 a week for herself and Fatmira,” concludes Edwards.
“The waiting is what takes from these women.”