How the UK is letting down victims of human trafficking

From Proof magazine, issue 2

Detention Action, a national charity that provides support to people in detention, has published alarming research on the number of potential victims of human trafficking that are being detained by the Home Office instead of receiving the support and recognition they need and deserve.

  • Find out more about Detention Action’s #unlocked17 campaign here.
  • You can read Eiri Ohtani’s article from Proof magazine, issue 2, on Unlocking Detention here

The charity reported that instead of referring potential victims of trafficking into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the Home Office ‘tends to view people who have been trafficked and lack formal immigration status through the lens of immigration control’ and focuses on detaining them without providing the necessary procedural safeguards to access independent representation or confidential advice.

Being unlawfully detained is not the only way that victims of human trafficking and modern slavery are being let down by the authorities in the UK. Too often, the Home Office is unresponsive to indicators of trafficking, Police fails to investigate crimes and pursue traffickers and Local Authorities allow children to be re-trafficked while in foster care.

Only last week, the Times newspaper reported that since 2015, more than 150 Vietnamese unaccompanied children have disappeared from local authority care after having been recognised as victims of trafficking or potential victims. Of the 150 missing children, almost double were never located again, while a few other reappeared in the cannabis farm or nail salons where they were exploited and trafficked in the first place.

This trend of children disappearing from local authority care soon after being rescued from their trafficker is particularly common amongst Vietnamese nationals, but minors of other nationalities, such as Albanians, seem also affected. The lack of support and language skills as well as social isolation are the main factors that lead to disappearances and Local Authority seem worryingly unable to cater for these children’s needs.

The fact that these children are able to get in touch or be found by their initial or new traffickers is particularly worrying. It is, however, not surprising, given the widespread inefficiency of the Police when it comes to investigating claims of trafficking and modern slavery made by undocumented immigrants often against British nationals.

In the year 2016/2017, only 58% of the NRM referrals in England and Wales were also recorded as crimes by the Police. The remaining 42% of referrals were not even investigated, with police officers waiting for an NRM decision before ever choosing to record a crime. In relation to this alarming trend, the UK’s anti-slavery commissioner Kevin Hyland commented:

The NRM is a framework for the identification, referral and protection of victims that aims to provide safety and a reflection period for victims, during which time they can decide to cooperate with the criminal justice system or not. It has no bearing on the duty of police forces to investigate each and every allegation of modern slavery crime that they receive. Modern slavery needs to be seen for what it is – a serious crime that must be dealt with in the same way as any other allegation of serious crime.

Even if the police do decide to record a crime, victims of trafficking encounter hostility from the forces whilst the investigation is ongoing. In some cases, victims experience delays in their statements being recorded, lack of interest and information from the investigating officer and failure to follow the standard procedure for vulnerable victims when recording evidence. There have also been reports of police officers sharing information with the Home Office that could damage a person’s claim to remain in the UK.

The Home Office has repeatedly reassured the public that supporting victims of modern slavery and human trafficking is a priority for the Government. But it finds itself in a very complicated position. Home Office officials are entrusted with recognising, investigating and determining claims of human trafficking and modern slavery while at the same time being responsible for removing from the UK undocumented migrants and deciding asylum claims based on trafficking allegations. Often the latter has an undue influence on the former.

Maybe it’s time to take away the Home Office’s monopoly of identifying and determining trafficking and modern slavery claims and introduce a panel system of Government officials as well as charity workers that could make the process fairer and more transparent.


This article was first published on November 23, 2017

Profile photo of Caterina Franchi About Caterina Franchi
Caterina is a Solicitor at Wilson Solicitors LLP. She specialises in immigration, asylum and human rights law. She volunteers for the Liberty Advice Line.

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