If passed, the U.K.’s controversial Nationality and Borders Bill could increase the risk of deportation for child trafficking survivors due to the time limits it sets for disclosure. Furthermore, survivors who have faced a prison sentence of over 12 months would not be able to receive modern slavery support in the U.K. This measure overlooks the fact that many survivors have faced criminal charges for crimes they were forced to commit by traffickers.
How child trafficking survivors can end up facing deportation
In an interview with the Independent, Joseph* shared his experience of narrowly escaping deportation after a new lawyer identified him as a potential survivor of child trafficking.
Joseph’s mother brought him to the U.K. as a baby after fleeing an abusive relationship in Jamaica. When he reached the age of 12, she began to suspect her son was being groomed. As a single mother who worked nights, she felt helpless.
Joseph was being lured by a local gang. They gave him gifts in exchange for transporting drugs or weapons. Joseph’s mother told the Independent: “Once he came home with a cut on his face and he said he fell off his bike. I could sometimes see the panic and fear in his eyes, but he would always say: ‘Mum, I’m OK’.”
Joseph was convicted for possessing a knife at the age of 14. A second conviction for conspiracy to supply came three years later, along with an 18-month jail sentence. When he was released after 11 months, he wanted to turn his life around.
However, his previous jail sentence made him liable for deportation. He was told he wasn’t allowed to work, so he ended up going back to his traffickers. Within two years, he received another conviction and was moved to an immigration removal center to await his deportation.
If it weren’t for his new lawyer, who referred him to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), he would have been on a flight last week to Jamaica. Joseph says he only came to understand recently that he had been a victim of trafficking. He had also been unaware of the existence of NRM.
A widely criticized bill
Earlier this week, senior police officers and lawyers warned that these changes risked hampering the prosecution of human traffickers in the UK and making it more difficult for people to escape exploitation.
Cross-party MPs, including two former Tory leaders, have also criticised the bill, which is currently going through parliament, saying they will “water down” vital protections for modern slavery victims.
Tamara Barnett, of the Human Trafficking Foundation, describes a “real problem” of criminal exploitation which begins in childhood “not being recognised” by the authorities.
“Instead we punish people for a life they have not chosen, while the real criminals behind the illegal activities remain untouched,” she says.
Stand with survivors like Joseph
Together with 50+ anti-slavery leaders, Freedom United has raised serious concerns around Part 4 of the Nationality and Borders Bill. Read the full statement here.
We are calling for guaranteed statutory support for all survivors of modern slavery during the National Referral Mechanism period, and for 12 months afterwards, including special leave to remain. Join us and take a stand for survivors like Joseph: sign the petition today.
*The name has been changed to protect the individual’s privacy.
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