The UK government has been criticised for introducing measures “which will hinder victim identification and protection efforts” for survivors of modern slavery.
While the UK has maintained its Tier 1 status in its efforts to combat human trafficking, there were a number of concerns raised within the latest Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, published annually by the US Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
The report, which classifies all countries on their work to prevent human trafficking, condemned the UK’s “inadequate” long-term care and reintegration support for victims.
Praise was given to the UK for continuing to demonstrate “serious and sustained efforts” in its anti-trafficking endeavours. Recognition was given for more traffickers being prosecuted and convicted during the last reporting period, more victims being identified and steps being taken to improve victim support.
As a Tier 1 country, the UK is judged to be meeting the minimum standards in responding to human trafficking. However, the TIP report makes clear that “while Tier 1 is the highest ranking, it does not mean that a country has no human trafficking problem or that it is doing enough to address the crime”.
Criticisms included the long wait times to enter the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) and begin receiving support, as well as the risk that many victims are failing to receive support on the basis of their immigration status – particularly affecting undocumented migrants.
The report also said that the UK government had “mixed protection efforts” and highlighted a number of criticisms of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which became law in April this year. Namely, the Act will make it harder to identify victims and creates a risk of victims being penalised for crimes that traffickers compelled them to commit.
“Although the government identified significantly more victims and expanded the ICTG program for children”, the Report states, “it created a dual system for identifying victims among individuals who lacked secure immigration status and introduced legislation that experts widely believed would hinder identification and protection efforts.
“[…] Experts widely and strongly criticized the bill for increasing the burden of proof for victim identification and creating impediments regarding disclosure of status; conflating human trafficking with immigration; and disqualifying some victims, including children, who were compelled by traffickers to commit unlawful acts. UN Special Rapporteurs urged the government to reverse the bill’s proposed measures and underscored the bill would seriously undermine the protection of trafficking victims.”
Hope for Justice was one of dozens of organisations who urged the government to make amendments to Part 5 of the bill, to allow victims of modern slavery to receive support regardless of whether they have committed an offence. We were particularly concerned that those who had been compelled to commit crimes during their exploitation would be excluded from support. The act was passed in April with most of the suggested amendments ignored.
Part 5 of the Nationality and Borders Act requires competent authorities to consider a potential victim’s criminal history and the time it takes them to provide evidence when deciding whether to identify them as victims of modern slavery and provide support.
Phillipa Roberts, Hope for Justice’s Head of Policy and Research, said: “Survivors should be central to all aspects of the UK’s anti-modern slavery efforts. This includes ensuring that they are directly involved and key stakeholders in the development of the strategy, legislation, policy and practice that truly and effectively prevents exploitation, identifies and protects victims and ensures perpetrators are brought to justice.
“The UK must take heed of the recommendations made within the TIP Report. It must address the piecemeal approach to victim care within the Modern Slavery Bill and directly incorporate the rights of victims as detailed in the Directive and Convention.”
The TIP Report identified a number of areas for improvement, including “implementing reforms to the NRM, including timely determination of victim status, to encourage more victims to come forward, particularly undocumented migrants”. It also urged the UK to “expand long-term care and reintegration support and monitor and assess outcomes of post-NRM support”.
It went on to make recommendations for major changes to the country’s current policy, calling on the UK to “provide a trafficking-specific long-term alternative for foreign victims at risk if returned to their home country”, and to “ensure convicted traffickers are sentenced to significant prison terms to adequately deter trafficking”.
Download a full version of the TIP Report here or by clicking the image below.