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U.K. migration plan will harm victims and benefit traffickers, says former watchdog

  • Published on
    March 14, 2023
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  • Category:
    Human Trafficking, Law & Policy
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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s plan to deport people arriving in the U.K. in small boats will see thousands of trafficking victims “abandoned” as trafficking gangs evade responsibility, according to a former watchdog.

Against international human rights standards

The controversial Illegal Migration Bill would leave victims who arrive in the U.K. via irregular routes without support and at risk of deportation before their claims have been fully investigated.

Dame Sara Thornton, the former Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, told The Independent that denying support to modern slavery victims because of how they enter the country is against the European Convention Against Trafficking and the European Convention of Human Rights.

The ‘loophole’ myth

Home Secretary Suella Braverman claims that modern slavery provisions are being abused to stop deportations. But the evidence refutes this claim.

Since 2018, over 6,000 people have been referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the framework for identifying and supporting modern slavery victims. The Home Office decided that 85% of these people had “reasonable grounds” to be recognized as victims of slavery, servitude, forced labor or trafficking.

The Independent quotes Patrick Ryan, chief executive of the Hestia charity:

We work with thousands of survivors each year, and we have seen no evidence to suggest that modern slavery support processes are being exploited by individuals seeking asylum in the UK. We need to be tougher on the organised criminals who are exploiting vulnerable people, not on the victims.

Why the “exception” isn’t good enough

The bill has an exception that would enable a victim to stay in the U.K. while they cooperate on a slavery or trafficking investigation. However, experts warn that victims could be removed from the country before they are able to inform authorities of their experiences.

Moreover, concerns have been raised that the new bill would dissuade people from reporting their traffickers to the police. If they know the risk of detention and deportation, victims who have entered the country through irregular means may avoid coming forward at all, which ultimately benefits traffickers.

Maya Esselmont, director of After Exploitation, shared her opinion with The Independent:

It is wrong to essentially leverage victim support in exchange for compliance with the criminal justice system, at a time when basic forms of support such as safe housing and counselling are not a guarantee for those who come forward.

Take action today

At Freedom United, we are proud to join 320+ charities, unions, businesses and  faith leaders in calling on Rishi Sunak to scrap this appalling bill.

This #RefugeeBanBill is opposed by communities across the U.K. and around the world: together, we will defend the right to seek safety for all and specialized support for trafficking victims.

Sign the petition to call on governments around the world to pass migration law that helps protect people from exploitation.


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