Yesterday, Members of the House of Lords asked the Government to confirm how rights for human trafficking victims will apply following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
During Committee Stage of the Immigration & Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal Bill), Lord McColl and Lord Morrow tabled amendments to the Bill which sought to ascertain whether rights currently available to victims under the EU Anti-Trafficking Directive would continue post-Brexit, and to ensure that victims are not further exploited with new immigration rules in place.
How Brexit could affect victims of modern slavery
The EU Anti-Trafficking Directive is a significant Directive, which led to the Government introducing the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
Currently, rescued victims in England and Wales do not receive guaranteed support. This is not the case in Scotland and Northern Ireland where parallel human trafficking laws provide statutory assistance for rescued victims. The Government have said they will bring forward Regulations to ensure support for victims, but no regulations have yet been brought to Parliament.
One of the consequences of removing all EU-derived rights from domestic law is that the EU’s Human Trafficking Directive, which in Article 11 says victims must receive support, will potentially no longer apply. It is unclear at present how much – if any - of the Directive will remain part of retained EU law after the end of the transition period.
This leaves rescued victims in England and Wales with potentially even fewer legal rights than before. Not only will there be no Directive to provide them with some assurance, there is the ongoing lack of statutory support on offer.
Why the Government should adopt Lord McColl's Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill.
At present, there are a predicted 100,000 men, women and children in modern slavery in the UK today whose rights currently hang in the balance.
In a context where victims of human trafficking could lose essential rights to help them recover, it is even more vital that they are given an adequate period of support, enshrined in law. This is why CARE supports Lord McColl’s Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill.
The Bill would give adult confirmed victims of trafficking in England and Wales immigration leave for a minimum of 12 months so they can receive statutory assistance and support to help them recover from their abuse, reducing the risk of re-trafficking and increasing conviction rates by providing victims the security they need in order to give evidence against their traffickers in court.
The Centre for Social Justice recently recommended that he Government “must enshrine survivor rights in law to guarantee and protect their access to support.” Their report makes eight key recommendations, the second of which is that the Government should give all trafficking victims – regardless of nationality – certainty over support and immigration status by adopting Lord McColl’s Bill.
CARE is part of the Free for Good campaign, a coalition of 27 charities and organisations supporting the Bill and working to give victims more support. In a context where immigration rules are changing, the case for the campaign is greatly strengthened. Rather than eroding the rights of trafficking victims further, Brexit could provide an opportunity to enhance the rights of confirmed victims of modern slavery.