The U.K.’s stated commitment to protect trafficking survivors rings hollow as new data released during anti-trafficking week exposes how thousands of trafficking survivors have been detained in prison-like settings, only discovered to be trafficking survivors once they have left detention.
Detention of trafficking survivors is inhumane and risks seriously exacerbating survivors’ “physical, psychological and social recovery, it may also result in accumulative trauma, suicidal behaviour and post-traumatic stress disorder.” The UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons has explicitly called for potential and confirmed victims of trafficking to be removed from prison-like settings. That’s why it’s crucial for states to ensure that potential trafficking survivors are identified at the earliest opportunity and not detained under immigration powers.
Freedom United partner, After Exploitation, obtained the data that shows over 4,000 people were identified as trafficking survivors in the last five years after they had been released from immigration detention. This suggests that many others may have been deported without ever being identified as victims and having never received the support they are entitled to.
Maya Esslemont, director of After Exploitation, told the Guardian:
It is terrifying that, as hard evidence shows just how often survivors are punished rather than supported, the government would put considerable resource behind making the trafficking decision-making process even stricter.
In thousands of instances, we have seen some of the most vulnerable people in the UK face conditions which have not been conducive to disclosure of their abuse. Aside from the moral imperative to make trafficking support more readily available to those who need it, it is clear that the government’s ‘detain first, ask later’ approach to immigration detention is completely obscuring the state’s ability to identify human trafficking, and is running counter to its goal of fighting modern slavery.
The U.K.’s Nationality and Borders Bill which is currently being examined by parliamentarians could further worsen the situation for trafficking survivors who risk being immediately detained without any consideration given to their status as a potential trafficking survivor. Survivors risk being completely overlooked by authorities and not referred to the national system to identify and support survivors.
Freedom United is concerned at the “detain first, ask later” attitude taken by the U.K. government that is driving a trend of deporting potentially vulnerable trafficking survivors back into situations of exploitation. Current U.K. policy does not go far enough to prevent and protect survivors from trafficking.
We’re urging governments to stop detaining survivors for not having secure immigration status, and meet international standards designed to protect survivors from further trauma and revictimization. Add your name to the campaign today.