After calling law enforcement for help, trafficking victims in the U.K. are amongst the thousands of people reported to immigration by police.
New data obtained through a freedom of information request by the Joint Council on the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), a U.K. organization advocating for migrants’ rights, shows that between May 2020 and May 2022, 796 victims of modern slavery were referred by police to the Home Office.
Supporting trafficking victims not a priority
Instead of being recognized as victims of serious crime, trafficking victims are being treated as immigration offenders and subjected to a host of hostile immigration policies, including detention and deportation.
We are alarmed that vulnerable migrants who are experiencing trafficking, forced labor, and other horrific modern slavery offenses are having their trust in law enforcement abused in this way.
These findings demonstrate how immigration concerns, rather than the protection and support of trafficking victims, is the priority for the U.K. government. The data collected by JCWI is just the tip of the iceberg. Many more trafficking victims will be deterred from reporting exploitation to the police for fear of detention and deportation.
Furthermore, victims of crime are not always seen as such by police. Instead they are just viewed as immigration offenders and their accounts of abuse and exploitation are not believed.
“For every one person who is reported to Immigration Enforcement after they go to police for support, untold thousands then avoid the police out of fear of deportation,” said Mary Atkinson, campaigns officer at the JCWI. “There’s no question that this enables greater exploitation and abuse of vulnerable people, and creates a cohort of people who have no recourse to justice.”
Calls for a firewall between police and immigration
U.K. human rights advocacy groups Liberty and Southall Black Sisters raised a super-complaint with police in 2018 on the basis that “data-sharing between the police and Home Office deters people with insecure immigration status from seeking the support of the police, be it as victims or witnesses, thereby undermining the fight against crime.”
In 2021, the Home Office rejected the call for a firewall to be implemented between police and immigration enforcement.
At a time when trafficking victims risk being deported to Rwanda to have their asylum claims processed, the need for a firewall between the police and the Home Office is clear and urgent.
Immigration law should never supersede the systems designed to provide protection and support for trafficking victims and survivors. Yet all too often, states’ anti-trafficking strategies are tied to immigration priorities, harming trafficking victims in the process.
The Freedom United community is urgently calling on all states to ensure safe migration and ensure trafficking victims are protected. Join the campaign here.