Campaign news: Government “does not back” end to detention of trafficking victims. Rejects calls for 12 months’ victim support.

This week, we are saddened by the Government’s response to our Anti Slavery Day joint letter, supported by more than 50+ experts by experience, academics, NGOs and law firms. The coalition of advocates called on Government to back provisions in the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill, which would guarantee all human trafficking survivors a minimum of 12 months’ support and immigration leave.

The measures, now rejected by Government, would protect victims from deportation and detention during the first year of their final trafficking decision.
Currently, survivors face a ‘support lottery’, risking immigration reprisals if they report crimes against them. The Private Members Bill, tabled by Lord McColl and co-sponsored by Iain Duncan Smith MP, is backed by a coalition of non-profits think tanks and companies under the campaigning group ‘Free For Good‘.

Worryingly, Minister for Safeguarding, Victoria Atkins MP, has outlined that the Government “does not agree that victims should automatically be granted leave to remain for 12 months” and that decisions will continue to be made on a “case-by-case basis”.

We are concerned by the response to a second point in our letter, calling on Government to prevent the detention of victims in prison-like settings. Last year, our research showed that as many as 1,256 potential trafficking victims are detained annually. Atkins replied: “The Government does not have an absolute exclusion from detention for any particular group“, including victims of trafficking.

Lastly, we expressed concerns about proposals to prejudice asylum claims on the basis of a claimants’ method of entry and timing of application. Trafficking victims – who may have no choice but to claim asylum months or years after first entering the country – will be disadvantaged by the proposed reforms to penalise late claims. Atkins does not address this concern directly, but instead replies that claimants will have the opportunity to “explain their actions“. The letter does not outline any planned mechanisms to protect trafficking victims from being hit hardest by the asylum reforms announced by Secretary of State, Preti Patel, in October 2020.

Speaking in The Guardian and Independent this week, we had one message: The Government is irreperably damaging victims’ trust.

Director of After Exploitation, Maya Esslemont, said:

“In order to be recognised as a survivor, victims are first referred by ‘first responders’ and then assessed via a two-stage process sometimes lasting years. It is insulting that even where victims undergo the gruelling steps requested of them, the government cannot meet survivors halfway with incredibly basic and short-term protection.

The current system of support and recognition is unsustainable and makes it difficult for non-UK survivors to report crime due to the threat of deportation or detention. Equally, UK survivors cannot be confident about the length of support, such as access to safe housing, they will receive if they come forward. Until the government creates a culture of safety for those exploited, it is impossible to win the trust of survivors who are rightfully fearful of seeking help.”

Director of Women For Refugee Women,  Alphonsine Kabagabo, said:

“In recent years Women for Refugee Women has worked with many women who have been locked up at Yarl’s Wood detention centre for long periods of time, despite evidence that they had been trafficked into situations of sexual or labour exploitation here in the UK. The government accepts that trafficking survivors are at particular risk of harm in detention. However, the ‘Adults at Risk’ policy that Victoria Atkins mentions has failed to keep vulnerable people out of detention. Policy tweaks applied to the institutionally racist and sexist immigration system are simply not enough to safeguard the women we work with. It’s time to treat survivors of trafficking with humanity, and provide the support they need to rebuild their lives with dignity.”

UK and Europe Director of Anti Slavery International, Kate Roberts, said:

“This is a basic and moderate ask which is more important than ever following the UK’s departure from the EU, and would demonstrate a commitment to effectively addressing slavery through supporting recovery and sustainable freedom”

You can take action by emailing, Tweeting or Facebooking your MP as a constituent concerned about the dangers facing trafficking survivors.
We’ve uploaded a Google Doc, including draft campaigns text you can copy-paste or use as inspiration.

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