Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group urge Lords to consider modern slavery

As the proposed “Illegal Migration” Bill progresses in the House of Lords, the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group provide a new detailed overview of how this Bill will impact victims of slavery. Our Parliamentary Officer, Lucy Symington returns to the ATMG’s analysis of the Bill and highlights the core concerns relating to modern slavery.

Image credit: Melinda Nagy, via Shutterstock.

The proposed “Illegal Migration” Bill in the UK has already faced huge criticism from civil society groups, lawmakers, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Both former Anti-Slavery Commissioners have also criticised the Bill, due to its potential impact on vulnerable individuals, particularly those who have experienced trafficking and exploitation. In May, we sat down with our UK and Europe Advocacy Manager to discuss just how this Bill will impact victims of modern slavery.

Last month, the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG), chaired by Anti-Slavery International, published a detailed overview of the Bill. It outlined just how damaging this Bill will be for anyone caught in the criteria of Clause 2, which targets people who enter the UK irregularly. This will not only affect those who have already suffered exploitation, but will exacerbate conditions of vulnerability that will drive more people into slavery.

Read the briefing

As the Illegal Migration Bill returns for its third day of scrutiny in the House of Lords, let’s look at how this briefing demonstrates the ways the Bill might exacerbate already high levels of exploitation and re-trafficking in the UK.

How will the Bill make more people vulnerable to modern slavery, trafficking and re-trafficking?

It penalises rather than supports – creating a risk of retrafficking

By targeting those in irregular situations and excluding them from modern slavery support, the new law would penalise victims rather than to provide pathways to support. It would drive victims into further instability and risk more individuals never coming forward or being re-trafficked even if they do. In practice it will create an environment of impunity for people traffickers.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May, speaking in the House of Commons echoed this criticism of the Bill, “I would say this is a slap in the face to those of us who actually care about the victims of modern slavery…it also suggests that those dealing with this bill simply do not understand the nature of these crimes.”

Systems of detention and removal – furthers a risk of retrafficking

The Bill’s specific provisions on detention and removal also raise significant concerns. The Bill proposes the detention and removal of individuals without carrying out an individual safeguarding and risk assessment, which could put individuals at a further risk of re-trafficking. This is a serious concern, as individuals who have experienced trafficking and exploitation require specialist support and assistance to prevent further harm.

Sam’s story, described in the ATMG report, shows why immediate detention and criminalising victims of modern slavery, increases distrust of authorities, and can lead to victims to remain in exploitation or experience re-trafficking. What the Sam’s story really shows, is that we are right to fear that, should the new Bill become law, people like Sam would no longer be able to access the support that eventually led him to safety.

Sam arrived in the UK aged 16 under the control of his traffickers, having been exploited in various countries and brought to the UK under the promise of a “better life” for Sam and his family. Sam was detained on arrival and claimed asylum the next day but was put into an immigration detention centre.

He remained in detention for two weeks before being released without any support and, almost immediately after his release, he was recaptured by his original traffickers. He was then re-trafficked into cannabis production and forced to live in a locked warehouse. He remained there for two years under constant control and enduring violence from his traffickers. Sam was then arrested, tried and convicted for cannabis production and sentenced to 20 months imprisonment. 

Trafficking indicators had not been acted upon by the immigration authorities nor by the criminal justice system before his case went to court. Having served his criminal sentence, Sam was transferred, once again, to immigration detention where his mental health deteriorated to the point that he was placed on ACDT (“suicide watch”) following a suicide attempt. 

The Home Office was informed that there were indicators to suggest he was a victim of trafficking. However, removal directions remained set and it was only when an emergency judicial review challenge was made by his lawyer that his removal was prevented. Eventually, after being prompted by his legal representatives, the Home Office referred Sam into the UK National Referral Mechanism (NRM). He received a positive reasonable grounds decision and was released the following day. Sam subsequently received a positive conclusive grounds decision, and was eventually granted refugee status. 

Sam was recently awarded substantial damages following a claim for false imprisonment, which included medico-legal evidence on the impact the detention had had on Sam.

Sam’s initial experience of detention is a prime example of why vulnerable victims of trafficking have difficulties trusting authorities, when he was released without support and was placed in the hands of his traffickers again. This reinforced his belief that he had little option but to remain with the traffickers as the only alternative was immigration detention.

It exacerbates vulnerabilities – putting more people at risk of trafficking

Finally, at the core of the Bill is a new duty on the Home Secretary to detain and remove almost all people who have arrive in the UK irregularly, a measure which builds on the already hostile environment for migrants in the UK, intensifying factors such as homelessness, destitution, access to education or physical and mental health support among the migrant community. The ATMG report forecasts this will, “create a fertile pool of vulnerable people that traffickers can easily tap into to expand their exploitation and trafficking rings”.

What can we do about it?

It is clear that the “Illegal Migration” Bill is deeply flawed and could have severe consequences for asylum seekers, refugees and current and potential victims of trafficking. Policymakers and legislators must take the concerns of experts seriously and act now to prevent people from being exploited and re-trafficked.

We urgently need you to use your voice and join us in calling for a safe system that puts survivors first. We must make sure that policymakers and legislators are aware of the potential impact of the “Illegal Migration” Bill and take steps to ensure that it does not become law.

Anti-Slavery International will be shining a spotlight on the ATMG’s briefing, asking Members of the House of Lords to consider the risks and reject the Bill entirely, and we need your help to keep MPs engaged and aware of the risks posed by the Bill for when it returns to the Commons.

Get involved, say no to this Bill and email your MP today.

Donate to support our campaign to stop the Bill – your gift will be doubled to help survivors of modern slavery.

Read the ATMG’s previous briefing on the Bill’s compatibility with the European Convention on Action Against Trafficking.