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U.K.’s survivor support system ‘at breaking point’

  • Published on
    February 23, 2023
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  • Category:
    Law & Policy
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The Independent reports how trafficking survivors in the U.K. are being left without crucial support and vulnerable to re-trafficking as the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the system through which trafficking victims in the U.K. are identified and receive support – is buckling under intense strain.

Charities under strain

Organizations who are categorized as ‘first responders’ are those who are able to refer potential victims to the NRM. Only 10 charities in the U.K. are currently first responder organizations. This small number of charities are reporting being swamped with requests that they don’t have the capacity to process. 

Potential victims cannot self-refer into the NRM, they must go through a designated first responder organization. First responders are also made up of statutory bodies such as the police, local councils and border officials.

Kalayaan, a first responder charity working to support migrant domestic workers who have experienced exploitation, launched a new report on Thursday outlining the current crisis that is failing trafficking victims and survivors:

There has been a lack of action on the part of the UK Government to acknowledge the pressing need for an increase in the numbers of First Responder Organisations, together with the requisite resources.


This cannot continue. The result is that survivors, if and when they are identified, cannot access the one system used in the UK – the NRM – to be identified, safeguarded and offered support. This situation has been deteriorating for a number of years but it now reaches breaking point.

Kalayaan reported that they had to temporarily stop accepting new referral requests in January 2023 because of the “overwhelming number” they were receiving. 

Solutions put forward by charities

Speaking at the Human Trafficking Foundation Forum on Wednesday, Avril Sharpe at Kalayaan said “The issue can be made quite simple; we need more non-statutory first responder organisations and an actual application process for other organisations to be able to apply.”

This proposal put forward by organizations who are on the frontlines providing support to trafficking victims must be heeded by the Home Office if they are serious in their claims that the “U.K. government is committed to ensuring victims get the support they need”, as stated by  Charlotte Breen Deputy Director at the Modern Slavery Unit, on Wednesday at the Human Trafficking Foundation forum.

Recent changes to the NRM raise the threshold of evidence for someone to be confirmed as a victim and will make it more difficult for people to receive the support they need. This is occurring in the context of consistent damaging rhetoric from the U.K. government casting doubt on the veracity of modern slavery survivors’ claims with the intent to justify increasingly restrictive immigration legislation and the rollback of protections for survivors.

Take action

Freedom United is urgently calling on the Home Office to ensure there are genuine anti-trafficking policies in place that prioritize victims’ rights and reject immigration policies that cause trafficking. Sign the petition.


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