The UK has been criticised in this years’ Trafficking in Persons report, issued by the US State Department, due to “measures which …observers believed would hinder victim identification and protection efforts, particularly among undocumented migrants.”
According to the report, evidence submitted to the US State Department illustrated that “long term care and reintegration support for victims were inadequate, and many potential victims continued to face long wait times to enter the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) and begin receiving support.”
The UK has retained its Tier 1 status for efforts against human trafficking, in part due to increased prosecution of traffickers and changes to sentencing guidelines. However, the report recommends a number of measures to improve identification and support of survivors, including:
- Immigration status: The report calls on the UK to “provide a trafficking-specific long-term alternative for foreign victims at risk if returned to their home country”. Currently, calls by NGOs including After Exploitation for survivors to be granted a short-term 12-month form of immigration leave has been rejected outright by the Safeguarding Minister. The Guardian’s write up of the Ministerial response to our letter, published in 2021, is available here.
- Safeguard survivors of criminal exploitation: Under Part 5 of the Nationality and Borders Act (NABA), decision makers are now required to consider survivors’ offending history in deciding whether to identify individuals as victims of modern slavery. Nearly half of all trafficking cases raised with the Home Office include some form of criminal exploitation, which has sparked concern from NGOs, who called to amend this support exclusion. The NABA was passed without any amendments to the Part 5 earlier this year.
The US State Department’s Trafficking in Person report calls on the UK to “Ensure victims are not penalized for unlawful acts, including immigration violations, traffickers compelled them to commit.”
Director of After Exploitation, Maya Esslemont, said:
“We welcome acknowledgement by the US State Department of the significant barriers to justice and support facing survivors of exploitation in the UK. Whilst recommendations to identify survivors on the basis of their experiences, rather than their immigration status, seems like an obvious first step in the fight against exploitation, it is important to note that the Nationality and Borders Act will need significant reform before the UK can commit to this basic recommendation.
Under Part 5 of the Nationality and Borders Act (Clause 62), decision makers in the UK are required to consider withholding trafficking status on the basis of a potential survivors’ offending history under ‘Public Order’ grounds. The bar for a ‘public order’ exemption is low (a sentence of 12 months or more) and could encompass survivors with convictions for crimes committed as a result of exploitation (such as marijuana cultivation, county lines drug running, or even immigration infractions which often carry sentences of much longer than a year).
Some of the most vulnerable survivors of exploitation are at risk of missing out on vital support like counselling and safe housing, or even State recognition of their experiences of trafficking, simply for crimes they were forced to commit.”
“This recommendation from the US State Department to ‘ensure victims are not penalised for unlawful acts’ is vital, but almost impossible to consistently adhere to under the Nationality and Borders Act. This should serve as a serious wake up call to the next administration.”