What does the “Illegal Migration” Bill mean for victims of modern slavery?

With the “Illegal Migration” Bill now passed by the House of Commons, and currently in the House of Lords, we sat down with Jamie Fookes, our UK and Europe Advocacy Manager to answer some important questions about what this Bill means for victims of modern slavery.

May 2023

Not enough time cartoon graphic. Credit Faltrego for Anti-Slavery International and the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group
Credit Faltrego for Anti-Slavery International and the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group.

Why are we talking about the “Illegal Migration” Bill?

If this Bill becomes law, it will create a system in which victims of trafficking and modern slavery who arrive in the UK irregularly would not only be banned from accessing vital support but detained on arrival without consideration or right to appeal or reconsideration.

This Bill goes against our international obligations and is in breach of our human rights commitments – all in the name to weaken the UK’s human rights protections. This Bill is unworkable and not an effective solution to the failings in our system. Instead, it will be putting victims of trafficking who have been coerced across borders – whether by boat, plane, or lorry – at great risk. As well as placing even more people at risk of modern slavery, this Bill is dangerous for victims and a gift to traffickers.

How are modern slavery and asylum connected?

For many victims of trafficking, asylum is the most secure way for them to confirm their entitlement to be in the UK while they receive the support they need to recover. People have the right to access recovery without unjust detention or removal. Simply put, many asylum seekers will be trafficked and many trafficking victims are asylum seekers.

Why are we campaigning against this Bill?

This Bill makes specific provisions for the blocking of victims and survivors of modern slavery from accessing vital support who arrive through irregular means and is an attack on the rights of survivors.

This Bill has the potential to increase the risk of trafficking for those who have already been trafficked, as well as individuals at high risk of trafficking.

As the UN’s refugee agency warns, this Bill would not only breach the UK’s obligations under international law but would be an effective ban on asylum. But this Bill affects all of us. It is an assault on human rights for everyone in the UK and weakens protections against abuse for all people.

What impact will this Bill have on victims of modern slavery?

The 2015 Modern Slavery Act was a landmark piece of legislation, with the UK leading the way internationally on supporting survivors of modern slavery. And while not perfect, it was a significant step that campaigners hoped would only be positively built upon. However recent Conservative governments have made continued efforts to remove support for survivors while consistently under-resourcing support systems to the point of collapse. A broken system is not only terrible for victims, but lets criminals off the hook and costs taxpayers’ money. We need better proper management of the modern slavery system, so that survivors and support workers can utilise what it should offer and have the time and space to do so fully.

In the past few years, new laws have been introduced that take this even further. As we warned, the Nationality and Borders Act limits the identification of people who have experienced modern slavery and the support they can access. Support workers now need to provide an unreasonable amount of evidence, essentially blocking many victims from support. The Act also effectively blocks many people who have been criminally exploited, such as through county lines (many of whom are young people), from accessing the vital support needed to take them out of exploitation and keep them safe.

Now this proposed Bill is going even further and stripping away vital support outlined in the Modern Slavery Act. Many victims will be unable to access the support system that facilitates their recovery and it will likely make it easier for traffickers to get away with their crimes. Such sentiments are mirrored by former Prime Minister Theresa May, speaking in the House of Commons said 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.”

How are we fighting the Bill?

This Bill will never align with our vision for a safe system which puts survivors first. We need a world where modern slavery doesn’t exist and where the UK is leading the way to make that happen. We fear this Bill will do the opposite. Therefore we are campaigning publicly and to policy makers to show that this Bill won’t work. Our team are working with MPs and key decision-makers and we are continuing to speak with media to get the message out – from iNews, OpenDemocracy and the Guardian.

We urgently need you to use your voice and join us. We must show this government that this isn’t the Britain we want. We want a Britain where victims of modern slavery experience safety and sanctuary on our shores.