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The long wait for support puts victims of modern slavery at great risk

Human Trafficking
29 November 2023
Woman looking out window trafficking

Victims of modern slavery are at risk of further exploitation, detention and even deportation while waiting on support from the Home Office.

Victims are now required to provide a higher threshold of evidence of their abuse before they have had formal access to help.

Some reports show that even after reports of abuse are made via the “National Referral Mechanism” – in which a person is assessed to see if there are “reasonable grounds” to be identified as a modern slavery survivor – individuals have been made to wait a record 58 days on average before receiving any support.

Director of the NGO After Exploitation, Maya Esslemont, says, “It’s very worrying to see we’re now moving towards a ‘deport first, ask later’ policy which puts even more people at even greater risk.

“The two-month wait for support also increases survivors’ risks of reprisals by traffickers, as well as their risk of homelessness and destitution at a time when they should be given the tools to start rebuilding their lives.

“During this limbo, survivors are not guaranteed safe housing, putting them at risk of reprisals from their traffickers, and some may even slip through the net at this stage because of a lack of support,” she said.

“For this reason, a 58-day wait is unconscionable, it leaves people at their most vulnerable without a safety net for months,” she added.

The Government’s Illegal Migration Act, and the Nationality and Borders Act has been coined as the reason for the rise in wait times and that new measures put in place are simply criminalising victims.

Other measures introduced under the Act includes banning referrals for victims who have a criminal record. However, victims are more often than not forced to commit crime as a result of their exploitation.

New research has revealed that there may be more victims of modern slavery in the prison system than we thought with survivors not being identified and therefore missing out on the support that they need.

Charities have warned that the Illegal Migration Act will also further criminalise modern slavery victims by disapplying legislative protections where anyone trafficked into the UK via small boat will be automatically classified as an illegal immigrant by the Government – regardless of whether they arrived in the country as a victim of modern slavery.

According to reports, the total number of potential modern slavery victims referred to the Home Office this year sits at 12,872, while the number of those actually classified as victims and therefore receiving support has sharply declined.

With the lower number of classifications has come a record number of appeals to these cases, in which more than half have been reconsidered to be victims of modern slavery.

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