Trafficking survivors in the United Kingdom already face many barriers to receiving the support they need to recover and to better protect themselves from re-trafficking. However, instead of breaking down the existing obstacles, the U.K. government is going in the opposite direction.
The Nationality and Borders Bill, currently being debated in the House of Lords, is set to restrict access to support even further. In an opinion piece for openDemocracy, Maya Esselemont lays out the impact of the most damaging clauses of Part 5 of the bill on modern slavery victims.
Victims forced to commit a crime excluded
In 2020, 49% of potential modern slavery victims were forced to commit a crime by their exploiters, according to Home Office data.
Clause 62 of the bill would exclude anyone who had received a prison sentence of 12 months or more, meaning around half of all survivors would be made ineligible.
This clause would create a worrying precedent. As Esselemont argues:
Survivors of crime are survivors of crime, regardless of what they have done.
Victims of re-trafficking abandoned
Clauses 60 and 61 would prevent survivors from receiving “further assistance” if they have already been through the system.
This move needlessly punishes those who have been re-trafficked or even exploited again by different people, likely as a result of state failure to protect such survivors in the first place.
The government free to exclude others at will
Clauses 63 and 67 grant the government the ability to exclude others based on unclear criteria. Decisions around support would be made on a ‘case-by-case’ basis, and when it seems ‘necessary’ for recovery.
Granting the government the power to pick and choose who to help is likely to have disastrous consequences for those in need. Current appeal success rates are case in point. As it stands, 78% of trafficking claim rejections are overturned at appeal stage, suggesting that the government already errs heavily on the side of underserving survivors.
Moreover, Clause 67 would withdraw the U.K. from the E.U. Trafficking Directive, removing existing accountability mechanisms under international law.
Support contingent on government-set timelines for disclosure
Clauses 57 and 58 create what is being called a ‘trauma deadline’, whereby survivors could be excluded from support should they fail to share the details of their exploitation within the timeframe set by the government. This restriction fails to take into account the nature of trauma and would exclude many survivors from the support they need.
Survivors are frequently psychologically, physically or sexually abused by traffickers as a means of maintaining control. For this reason, the traumatic nature of both exploitation and ill-treatment at the hands of exploiters can result in severely delayed disclosure by victims.
Survivors would also be required to provide more evidence earlier. Clause 59 makes recognition as a modern slavery victim, rather than a potential victim, a pre-requisite to receiving support. This means that survivors will have to provide evidence to the Home Office before even accessing urgent help, such as safe housing.
Urge the government not to turn their back on survivors
If the Part 5 of the Nationality and Borders Bill is not scrapped, the U.K. will be effectively turning its back on victims of modern slavery. The bill will make it extremely difficult for survivors to access support, leaving them vulnerable to re-trafficking.
We cannot let this happen. Join the organizations and activists urging the U.K. government to fulfil their responsibility to survivors.