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05 October 2022 – United Kingdom

Youtube, “LIVE: Suella Braverman Reveals New Immigration Law at Conservative Party Conference,” 4 October 2022,
Youtube, “LIVE: Suella Braverman Reveals New Immigration Law at Conservative Party Conference,” 4 October 2022,

The number of victims of trafficking detained in the UK has likely tripled in the past five years, says a new report published by the Helen Bamber Foundation in early October. Despite broad recognition of the vulnerabilities faced by trafficking and slavery victims, the report says, the UK government is treating survivors as criminals rather than victims by failing to take necessary steps to ensure identification and by enacting legislation that makes it harder to secure their release.

According to the report’s joint authors — the Helen Bamber Foundation, the Anti-Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit, Focus on Labour Exploitation, and Medical Justice — UK government data shows that the number of people referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), which is intended to identify victims of trafficking and modern slavery, has risen from 501 referrals in 2017 to 1,611 in 2021. Although the UK government has frequently touted rhetoric that individuals are “abusing the system” by falsely claiming to be victims of trafficking, over 90 percent of individuals referred to the NRM are found to be genuine.

Identification, however, is not leading to release from detention. While UK policy previously stated that victims of trafficking were only eligible for detention in “exceptional circumstances,” a 2021 policy change brought victims under the controversial “Adults at Risk” (AAR) framework, which holds that being a potential or confirmed victim of trafficking or slavery is only one “indicator” that someone is vulnerable to suffering harm in detention. As such, victims are required to produce “scientific levels of evidence” that they are likely to suffer harm in detention before they are released. According to the authors: “Such evidence is difficult for victims of trafficking to obtain, particularly for the many who lack access to good quality legal representation. In practice, the policy encourages a ‘wait and see’ approach whereby vulnerable detainees are left to deteriorate in detention until avoidable harm has occurred and can then be documented.”

The idea that non-nationals are “abusing the system” by falsely claiming to be victims of trafficking has steadily gained prominence among officials to justify hardening migration policies. New Home Secretary Suella Braverman, for instance, used a major speech to the Conservative Party conference on 4 October to accuse migrants — particularly those from Albania — of “abusing our asylum system” by falsely claiming to be modern slaves, and announced plans to overhaul the UK’s immigration legislation to ensure that “our laws are resilient against abuse.”

Braverman — who has said that it is her “dream” and “obsession” to see a deportation flight take off to Rwanda — also took aim at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which intervened in June to ground the UK’s first flight taking asylum seekers to Rwanda. She stated: “We need to find a way to make the Rwanda scheme work. … We cannot allow a foreign court to undermine the sovereignty of our borders. … We need to take back control.” The Home Secretary also pledged to ban anyone who enters the UK illegally from applying for asylum. “If you deliberately enter the United Kingdom illegally, from a safe country, you should be swiftly returned to your home country or relocated to Rwanda. That is where your asylum claim will be considered.”