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Blogs and Opinion What does the Rwanda Plan mean for victims and survivors of human trafficking?

What does the Rwanda Plan mean for victims and survivors of human trafficking?

Update, April 23rd 2024: The Safety of Rwanda Bill is anything but safe for victims of modern slavery, so it is on their behalf that we are deeply saddened by the Bill’s passing through the House of Lords this week. The Supreme Court ruled the Rwanda Asylum Policy to be unlawful, but the Government’s determination to press on with this policy signals yet another erosion of the rule of law and the international rights of those seeking refuge and victims of modern slavery.

Hope for Justice, as a member of the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group, welcomes the unanimous ruling by the UK Supreme Court made on 15th November 2023 that the previous Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s Rwanda plan is unlawful and immoral.

Despite this unanimous ruling, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced in a recent Downing Street press conference that he is prepared to introduce “emergency legislation” to deem Rwanda a safe country, directly contradicting the UK Supreme Court’s decision and the Court of Appeal’s earlier findings that Rwanda’s current asylum system is “not reliably fair and effective”.

The policy would forcibly remove vulnerable migrants, including victims and survivors of modern slavery, from the UK to Rwanda despite a high risk of refoulement (being forcibly returned to other countries where they might face torture and persecution) which would breach the UK’s international and domestic obligations, specifically the Refugee Convention, the European Convention on Action against Trafficking (ECAT), and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Read more about how compliance with international obligations is a fundamental requirement of any state seeking to uphold the rule of law here.

The ‘Rwanda Plan’ is a core part of the UK Government’s immigration strategy which includes the Illegal Migration Act, which as discussed in this article, makes it easier for traffickers to operate with impunity and makes the most vulnerable individuals, who have been trafficked and are victims and survivors of modern slavery, even more vulnerable.

Policies like the Illegal Migration Act and the Rwanda Plan can silence victims of human trafficking and modern slavery from speaking out about their exploitative circumstances due to fear of expulsion from the country, meaning many will stay silent and remain in exploitation. Others who do manage to escape their traffickers will be forced underground, avoiding contact with authorities or institutions that might have previously been able to help support them, and instead may become homeless and be at risk of re-exploitation.

These policies can also further harm survivors by inhibiting identification and protection processes and increasing risks of re-exploitation and further harm, preventing recovery and cooperation with authorities, as well as exacerbating the current hostile environment. Without carrying out an individual safeguarding and risk assessment, detaining and threatening to remove individuals to their country of origin or a supposedly “safe” third country will put them at further risk of re-trafficking. Individuals in vulnerable positions are therefore left with no choice but to go underground and be subject to further exploitation. This is why more robust legal framework is needed for victims and survivors of human trafficking in the UK.

“Whilst the Supreme Court’s judgement represents an important step in protecting those seeking asylum in the UK, including victims and survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking, considerable work remains to be done to effectively safeguard their rights and well-being. The solution to the issue of people arriving in the UK on small boats is not to further dilute the human rights framework in this country; doing so will only cause further harm and increase vulnerability to exploitation. The UK Government has a legal obligation to adhere to the standards set in international law, which includes the European Conventions on Human Rights and Action against Trafficking. This is vital to offer effective protection to vulnerable communities across the UK and to facilitate international collaboration to stop human trafficking.”

Euan Fraser, Senior Policy and Research Advisor at Hope for Justice

We would ask the Government to work with civil society organisations, including people with lived experience, and listen to recommendations that will protect the most vulnerable and reduce the risks of people smuggling and human trafficking, upholding our international obligations.

Instead of pursuing this dangerous policy, the United Kingdom should:

  • Scrap the ‘Rwanda plan” in its entirety.
  • Establish safe and legal routes for those who need them.
  • Improve the asylum system to ensure people have access to legally aided advice as soon as possible.
  • Ensure claims are heard in a timely manner and decisions are fair and are made quickly.
  • Ensure that those who are trapped in modern slavery are identified, safeguarded and receive the protection and support that they need. Learn more about modern slavery here.
  • Develop a new Government strategy to prevent and tackle human trafficking and modern slavery informed by those with lived experience.
  • Increase support for victims and survivors of modern slavery and take a human rights-based approach, which empowers survivors to engage with criminal investigations.
  • Approach the fight against trafficking and modern slavery from a safeguarding perspective rather than an immigration one.
  • Ensure that victims of modern slavery have early access to legal aid and pre-NRM (National Referral Mechanism) support to inform consent to a referral. Learn more about the NRM here.
  • Ensure that those who receive a positive Conclusive Grounds decision receive ongoing advocacy and support, including a minimum of 12 months of support and access to regularised immigration status with access to settlement routes.
  • Create more opportunities and more meaningful mechanisms to engage and consult with the wider migration and modern slavery sector and above all with experts by experience.

See the full signed statement by the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group here. As a sector, we have a wealth of expertise and experience in evidence-based policy on what works to tackle this serious crime. We work to ensure that current and future legislation works to prevent exploitation, ensure victims of modern slavery are identified and protected and that perpetrators are brought to justice. 

Follow key moments of the ruling here.

Further discussion on the decision can be found here.