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August 8, 2022

Exploitation risks in the UK asylum system – report

Hope for Justice is urging the Government to act on the findings of a new report which identifies that refugees and asylum seekers in the UK remain at risk of exploitation. 

 

The report, published by the British Red Cross and the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, found that people seeking protection in the UK have “felt unsafe, unable to disclose experiences of modern slavery and forced into domestic servitude, sexual and labour exploitation and forced criminality”. 

 

‘At risk: exploitation and the UK asylum system’ shows that some UK Government policies and practices are exacerbating the problem – for example, failure to provide safe-house accommodation or policies that increase risks of destitution and homelessness. 

 

It highlights: “There have been extensive concerns raised by parliamentarians and others, including the British Red Cross and UNHCR, about the provisions in the New Plan for Immigration and the impact of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 on the rights and safety of asylum-seekers, refugees and victims of trafficking in the UK. These include concerns that changes introduced through this legislation will increase risks of exploitation for asylum-seekers and refugees.” 

 

Hope for Justice was one of many anti-slavery and human rights organisations that urged the Government to make changes to its Nationality and Borders Bill. Unfortunately, most of the suggested amendments were ignored when it became law.  

 

As an organisation, we have seen first-hand how policies have increased the risk of exploitation. To mitigate this risk, Hope for Justice has recently worked with partners to identify policy safeguarding gaps that affect people forced to flee a country. From the evidence we have gathered from our frontline work, we have created policy recommendations to protect vulnerable people from harm. By sharing intelligence, we are ensuring that the relevant authorities can prevent harm and safeguard victims.  

 

Robyn Heitzman, Hope for Justice’s Policy and Research Officer, said: “It is vital to ensure policies and practices minimise the risk of exploitation. We strongly agree with the recommendations put forward: vulnerable individuals must be protected and supported by the Home Office, and a person’s safety must always be a priority.” 

 

One major report finding was an over-reliance on modern slavery survivors to self-identify as victims. Hope for Justice knows from its direct work with survivors that this can be incredibly difficult for them, due to the impact of trauma, or because they are fearful of their exploiters. 

 

Another important finding was a lack of effective vulnerability screening, which means that opportunities to identify and address risks are frequently missed. 

 

The report makes a number of recommendations for government. It states: “The Home Office should screen for vulnerabilities. It should prioritise safety over enforcement, ensuring that it responds to indications that an asylum seeker is missing as a safeguarding concern rather than an immigration compliance and enforcement issue. The Home Office should provide safe accommodation, ensuring risk and needs assessments are carried out to informed appropriate onward support, and do not place victims of modern slavery in asylum support accommodation. Lastly, it should make efficient decisions, including addressing delays in NRM and asylum decision-making.” 

 

Read the full report here.