New laws in the U.K. that make it even harder for trafficking and modern slavery victims to receive crucial support have come into force this week.
Increasingly punitive restrictions
The Home Office lauded new restrictions to the National Referral Mechanism, the system through which trafficking victims are identified and supported in the U.K.
What is particularly alarming is that the government has been able to push these damaging laws through with no official scrutiny from the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner as this post has been left vacant since April 2022.
Dame Sara Thornton who previously held the role warned that these new laws “will make the identification of victims of modern slavery harder and create additional vulnerabilities”.
She had also stated in a report that there was no evidence to justify the government’s dangerous rhetoric that modern slavery survivors are “gaming” the system.
The law now requires caseworkers to have “objective evidence of modern slavery rather than mere suspicion” when deciding on the preliminary “reasonable grounds” stage of determination.
The Home Office said more new legislation would be introduced in future to “further strengthen” the National Referral Mechanism and stop it supporting “those who seek to abuse our laws in order to thwart their lawful removal from the UK”.
“Not only is there significant potential to further harm genuine trafficking victims, but there is a significant risk that the measures will not work to deter illegal entry into the UK as envisaged” Dame Sara Thornton wrote in a letter to then Home Secretary Priti Patel in 2021.
Unsubstantiated claims by the U.K. government
A group of UN experts said in December that they were “alarmed by the rise in unsubstantiated claims by public officials and government departments regarding persons seeking protection under the Modern Slavery Act and the National Referral Mechanism” and urgently called on the government to appoint a new Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
The government’s commitment to dismantle an already lacking support system for modern slavery survivors based on unsubstantiated claims is disturbing and must be resisted.
Freedom United is urgently calling on the U.K. to pass genuine anti-trafficking policies that do not demonise migrants and trafficking victims.