An upcoming change in U.K. immigration law is set to increase the number of survivors of modern slavery detained and forcibly removed. Freedom United and other campaigners and activists are urgently calling on the U.K. to review this decision and stop detaining trafficking survivors.
The rule change, which was recently approved by Parliament and is set to come into force on May 25, raises the standard of proof required of trafficking victims seeking leave to remain.
Lawyers and advocates are urging the government to abandon the new policy, accusing the Home Office—the country’s interior ministry—of “systemic failure” to protect victims.
Even with current standards, vast numbers of survivors are detained and deported—of 5,088 recognized victims of trafficking from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) between April 2017 and December 2020, just 260 received discretionary leave to remain.
Moreover, proven cases of wrongful detention are already well-documented, and campaigners warn that these will become more common under the new rules.
A Latvian survivor of modern slavery received £15,000 ($20,000) in damages after she was wrongfully detained in 2019; another falsely imprisoned survivor from Vietnam received £22,000 ($30,000) in 2018.
The Guardian reports:
Ahmed Aydeed, a solicitor at Duncan Lewis, who represents many victims of trafficking, said: “The home secretary is, on a regular basis, compelled to accept her wrongdoing of falsely imprisoning survivors of trafficking and modern slavery. She is regularly compelled to pay damages for her wrongdoing, but yet continues to detain thousands of survivors every year for administrative convenience.
“The home secretary now plans to further downgrade protection against administrative detention for survivors of trafficking, which will lead to even more victims being detained. She recognises the likely harmful consequences imprisonment has on survivors’ physical and mental health, but continues to push for these changes.”
Lawyers and advocates argue that the rule change is all the more harmful considering that many survivors allege having no access to legal representation while in detention.
Six deported survivors on a recent Home Office charter flight to Vietnam said they did not spend at least five days in detention prior to their forcible removal, which goes against official guidelines.
The Home Office has denied the new rule change is harmful and insists it is necessary to prevent “foreign criminals who have no right to be here” from exploiting the system.
This is only the latest concerning U.K. rule change with potentially devastating effects on survivors; just last week, the government gave the green light to a new policy allowing the deportation of homeless migrants.
Since March this year, Freedom United has been calling on governments to align with U.N. guidelines and stop detaining survivors on the basis of their immigration status.
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