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Number of trafficking victims detained in prison-like settings triples

  • Published on
    October 4, 2022
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  • Category:
    Law & Policy
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A new report exposes damning evidence: the U.K. government is locking up trafficking victims with the number tripling in the last four years.

Immigration detention is inhumane

Detention of trafficking survivors is inhumane and risks seriously exacerbating survivors’ existing trauma, contributing to severe mental health issues and increasing the risk of suicide. 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.

Kerry Smith, Chief Executive of the Helen Bamber Foundation, one of the organizations who wrote the report said: 

“Many of our clients have been detained by the Home Office only to be released again, their detention serving no purpose but causing them significant physical and mental harm. Immigration detention is a hugely damaging environment for survivors, leaving many feeling suicidal. We believe that a person’s recovery needs simply cannot be met in a detention setting.

Majority of trafficking referrals from detention are confirmed victims

The vast majority of people who go through the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the U.K.’s system for identifying and supporting trafficking survivors, receive a positive conclusive grounds decision. This means that they are confirmed as having experienced trafficking or modern slavery and are entitled to receive support. 

Over 90% of cases referred from people in detention go on to be confirmed as victims of trafficking through the NRM. Yet, the U.K. government continues to peddle false claims that trafficking victims are abusing the system.

Trafficking victims intentionally failed

The bar has been raised for trafficking victims to prove their exploitation, with a failure of victims to volunteer information within a specific timeframe to be considered by the Home Office as grounds to reject their claim based on “damaged credibility”.

The Guardian reports:

“Survivors of trafficking are being failed and further harmed by a system that prioritises immigration control over the welfare of victims,” the report concludes.

It calls for more effective screening of trafficking victims before they are detained, independent judicial oversight of decisions to detain, and independent first responders inside detention centres to identify the most vulnerable people.

This news comes as the UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman reiterates the government’s commitment to undermine trafficking victims’ and migrants’ rights in the pursuit of inhumane border controls. A proposed “blanket ban” on people being able to seek asylum if they have entered the U.K. through irregular routes flies in the face of refugee laws and will force people to take more dangerous routes. Traffickers will exploit this vulnerability. Combined with the rollback of the already limited support trafficking victims receive is deeply worrying.

We MUST keep calling this government out. Take action against detention for trafficking survivors now.


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Oriett Boeri
Oriett Boeri
1 year ago

Let’s stop!

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