October 18th is Anti-Slavery Day, a day marked to symbolize the importance of raising awareness and the need to eradicate all forms of slavery, human trafficking, and exploitation.
Ironically, the U.K. recognizes this day as a national call to action, yet the government is doing more than failing in its stated aspirations. How? By the passing of legislation that undermines efforts to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking and attempts to justify asylum seekers’ deportation to a third country.
Aiding trafficking, condemning victims
The Illegal Migration Act contains some of the most ruthless anti-migrant provisions seen worldwide as part of its “Stop the Boats” campaign. It authorizes the government to deport asylum seekers arriving in the U.K. via so-called “irregular routes” and leaves victims with zero support or access to modern slavery protections, even if they are brought into the country under force or coercion.
All this does is put those who have already suffered exploitation further at risk of being trafficked and exacerbate conditions of vulnerability that will drive more people into modern slavery.
Safe migration routes are the most effective way to protect people from trafficking and would undermine traffickers’ thriving industry. However, the government has no plans in their campaign to create such routes. Rather, the attention is solely on targeting migrants and refugees once they arrive in the U.K.
Even Theresa May, former Prime Minister who recently apologized for creating a “hostile environment” when in power, shared her concern over the dangers of this policy:
“Traffickers could use [the threat of deportation in Britain’s new legislation] to persuade their victims… not to try to seek help. And if we are going to catch the [traffickers], we need the victims and survivors to be able to come forward to give the evidence necessary.”
Doubling down with no leg to stand on
Even after much backlash from the UN’s refugee agency and the European Court of Human Rights, the U.K. government is doubling down on their controversial justifications for this Act. On September 26, Braverman challenged the UN convention for protecting refugees during a speech in the U.S. She questioned whether persecution for one’s sex or sexual orientation could really be grounds for asylum – overturning a landmark international protocol protecting hundreds of millions of people.
In the same speech, Braverman promoted hostility towards migrants naming immigrants as an “existential challenge for the political and cultural institutions of the West” and referred to the high rates of immigration as a “failure of migrants to integrate.” This rhetoric connotes racist and xenophobic beliefs by drawing on the age-old position that non-white migrants pose a “threat that should be dealt with.”
Braverman’s dream is an asylum seeker’s nightmare
The Act seeks to use threats of detention, deportation and denied access as a deterrence to people arriving in the U.K. Home Secretary Suella Braverman says it is her “dream” and “obsession” to see a plane take asylum seekers to Rwanda. The government’s plan to forcibly send asylum seekers to Rwanda, a third country, is so controversial that it is being scrutinized in the UK’s highest court.
Advocates warn that if asylum seekers are sent to Rwanda, there is a real risk that they could be tortured, punished, or face inhumane and degrading treatment in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights given Rwanda’s history of suppressing dissent.
Yasmine Ahmed, the U.K. director of Human Rights Watch, which last week issued a new report on Rwanda, stated:
“The Human Rights Watch findings highlight that Rwanda is not a country the U.K. should rely upon to uphold international standards or the rule of law when it comes to asylum seekers.”
Critics of Rwandan President Paul Kagame are locked up, other Rwandans have disappeared, and the regime kidnapped an oppositional leading figure.
The link between harsh immigration policies and trafficking
The Illegal Migration Act brings with it an increase in the risk of trafficking as it increases migrants’ vulnerability. Many who seek to get to the U.K. choose irregular routes out of dire necessity and a lack of alternatives. That might be fleeing violence, exploitation, persecution, or simply poverty and survival. The likelihood of being trafficked on the journey vastly increases when the routes are not regulated.
Instead of providing safe routes and working to support trafficking victims on arrival, the plan to deport them to Rwanda further endangers them. Given Rwanda’s failure to uphold international standards for asylum seekers, the evidence suggests that those who are trafficked are not in a position to safely go to authorities and get the support they need.
Freedom United stands in unconditional solidarity with migrants and rejects the Illegal Migration Act. We stand for safe migration routes as the most effective way to protect people from trafficking. Sign our petition to call for genuine anti-trafficking immigration policies.