Data on the both the deportation and voluntary return of trafficking victims is crucial, as the threat of immigration enforcement is frequently used by traffickers to manipulate victims. Amongst survivors surveyed in the UK, Belgium, Netherlands, and United States, the fear of deportation is the most commonly cited factor preventing victims from engaging with authorities.[1]

Deportation may cause anxiety amongst survivors for a number of reasons, such as the threat of re-trafficking upon return.[2] Equally, fear of corruption amongst local government and law enforcement, upon return, is often well-founded. In a research briefing released by the UNODC, a number of interviewees reported “being apprehended by officials at the airport and held until they or their families paid a bribe. Sometimes they [victims] were threatened that they would be publicly exposed as being prostitutes.“ [3]  

Victims may also face the same push factors which still threaten to increase vulnerability or pose danger upon return, such as abject poverty or persecution on the basis of sexuality, gender, or another protected characteristic[4].

On voluntary returns of victims, more data is needed in light of ambiguous Government rhetoric. In 2019, a Commons statement confirmed that victims of trafficking may be “deported” if they are “refusing to leave” the UK via the Voluntary Returns Scheme (VRS).[5] This political approach to voluntary return raises questions around the conditions under which victims are expected to consider voluntary return. In particular, if some victims are being asked to undertake a voluntary return where their only alternative is deportation, this practice should solicit concern around the extent to which this option is truly ‘voluntary’.

Despite the importance of data on both enforced and voluntary return of trafficking victims, no Government statistics are released on these outcomes.

However, FOI requests by After Exploitation confirm that both voluntary and enforced returns and trafficking outcomes are held centrally on the CID.[6], [7]  In sampling exercises by After Exploitation, FOI responses document the statistics on voluntary and enforced return, in respect of trafficking and potential trafficking victims, held centrally.

Home Office statistics on the deportation and
voluntary return of individuals with NRM decisions (2016-2018)
Demographic  Enforced removalVoluntary removal
Number of individuals who had a positive Reasonable Grounds (RG) decision before return  873
Number of individuals who had a positive Conclusive Grounds (CG) decision before return  3025

Whilst the data suggests a relatively small proportion of potential and confirmed victims are deported, the use of voluntary return as a ‘stand-in’ for the deportation of victims remains pertinent. In particular, subsequent examination of voluntary returns data by After Exploitation revealed that a majority of potential victims (52%) returning via voluntary return were initially held in immigration detention[8], leaving charities to question whether such returns may be undertaken by survivors out of desperation rather than as a result of informed consent[9].

Data refusals

On four separate occasions, MPs and Lords have requested, and been refused, data on the deportation or voluntary return of trafficking victims via Parliamentary Questions [Appendix: PQ Table]. This month, a report by the Anti Slavery Commissioner has confirmed additional data on voluntary returns amongst victims, alongside NRM waiting time statistics[10] previously denied to Yvette Cooper MP in 2018[11] and Baroness Hamwee in 2019[12].  

Yet, in spite of the aforementioned evidence, data on voluntary return and deportation continues to be denied in PQ responses. On 5 April 2019, Baroness Hamwee asked for the number of recognised trafficking victims who were deported. This request was also rejected, on the basis that the Home Office “does not collate or publish the data requested”[13], despite evidence to the contrary obtained by After Exploitation.

As recently as this month, Alex Norris MP was denied data on the use of the VRS by recognised survivors despite the Home Office having provided similar data to After Exploitation. Norris’ request was rejected on the basis that “the Home Office holds data on those identified as having been trafficked into the UK, but not in a format which can easily be reported.”[14]

Equally, data on child trafficking and deportation continues to be obscured. On 12 July 2019, Ed Miliband MP asked for data on the number of trafficked children who were deported upon turning 18 years of age. This request was rejected on the basis that “providing the information requested would therefore require a manual check of individual records which could only be done at disproportionate cost.”[15] However, in that same month, an investigation by BuzzFeed found that such data on immigration outcomes a child victims of trafficking could be provided within at least 24 hours of Home Office staff time, after a protracted legal battle over a near-identical FOI[16].

We are concerned that data on the voluntary return and deportation of trafficking victims, which is could so easily be extracted, continues to be withheld from political stakeholders.

Recommendation

We urge the Government to release data on the deportation and voluntary return of potential and recognised victims of trafficking. This can be provided as part of the Government’s Annual Modern Slavery Report, or in a quarterly format similar to the Home Office’s immigration statistics.


[1] Uddin N., (2017). The Fight Against Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking: The Role of Victim Support in Prosecuting This Crime. pg 5. Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. Last accessed 22 September 2020: https://www.wcmt.org.uk/fellows/reports/fight-against-modern-slavery-and-human-trafficking

[2] International Organization for Migration (2010). The Causes and Consequences of Re-trafficking: Evidence from the IOM Human Trafficking Database. Last accessed 22 September 2020: https://publications.iom.int/system/files/pdf/causes_of_retrafficking.pdf

[3] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2011). The Role of Corruption in Trafficking in Persons, pg 12. Last accessed 14 September 2020: https://www.unodc.org/documents/human-trafficking/2011/Issue_Paper_-_The_Role_of_Corruption_in_Trafficking_in_Persons.pdf

[4] Adams, C. (2011). Re-trafficked victims: How a human rights approach can stop the cycle of re-victimization of sex trafficking victims. George Washington International Law Review

[5] Nokes, C,. (2019). Immigration Detention: Victims of Modern Slavery, 17 July 2019, Vol. 663.Hansard. Accessible: https://bit.ly/2XPZVG2

[6] Accessible: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/voluntary_return_category_fields

[7] Accessible: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/voluntary_removals_of_potential

[8] After Exploitation (2019). Human trafficking: Voluntary returns data. Accessible: https://afterexploitation.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/voluntary-trafficking-returns-after-exploitation-.pdf

[9] Guilbert, K., (2019) Exclusive: UK found sending home dozens of slavery victims despite re-trafficking fears. Thomson Reuters Foundation. Last accessed 20 September 2020: https://news.trust.org/item/20190805233940-tryd8/

[10] Independent Anti Slavery Commissioner (2020). IASC Annual Report 2019-2020. Accessible: https://www.antislaverycommissioner.co.uk/media/1461/ccs207_ccs0520602790-001_iasc_annual-report-2019-2020_e-laying.pdf

[11] Accessible: https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2018-10-23/182690

[12] Accessible: https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2019-03-27/hl14851

[13] Accessible: https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2019-03-27/hl14852

[14] Accessible: https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2020-09-08/86742

[15] https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2019-07-09/275161

[16] Bradley, J., Dugan, E., (2019). Hundreds Of Child Trafficking Victims Have Been Refused The Right To Stay In The UK, Buzzfeed. Last accessed 25 September 2020:https://www.buzzfeed.com/janebradley/child-trafficking-victims-refused-uk

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