Rishi Sunak’s plan to deport migrants in small boats will see thousands of victims of modern slavery “abandoned” as the gangs who abuse them are let loose, a former warden has warned.
The Illegal Immigration Act would ban victims of human trafficking who arrive in the UK illegally from receiving support and allow them to be deported while officials are still investigating their claims.
More than 6,000 people have been flagged to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for victims of modern slavery since 2018, including 2,700 in 2022 alone. Home Office officials found that 85 per cent had “reasonable grounds” to be accepted as victims of human trafficking, slavery, servitude or forced labour.
Dame Sara Thornton, the former Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said The independent that denying protection to victims of modern slavery based on how they arrived in Britain “is not compatible with the European Convention against Trafficking or the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)”.
“No one understands the horrors of human trafficking and leaves extremely vulnerable victims of serious crimes,” he added.
The number of people arriving by small boat in the UK increased by 60% between 2021 and 2022, to 46,000. The government has tried twice in the last four years to solve the problem, while thousands of arrivals have to be accommodated in hotels at huge expense. The new bill and an agreement with France to stop small boats leaving French shores are the latest effort to curb the growing numbers.
There is an exception to the law if the Home Secretary “considers it necessary” for a victim to remain in the UK while they cooperate with an investigation into alleged slavery or human trafficking.
But officials worry that victims could be deported before they can tell British authorities they have been trafficked, and that the new measures will make them fear reporting gangs to the police.
“Although there is an exemption for those cooperating with an investigation or criminal proceedings, it will prevent victims who know they have entered the country illegally from coming forward,” Dame Sara said.
Maya Esslemont, director of After Exploitation, said victims needed to recover before “going through the difficult process of re-traumatizing” as a witness in a criminal investigation.
“It is wrong to effectively leverage victim support in exchange for compliance with the criminal justice system, at a time when key forms of support such as safe housing and counseling are not guaranteed for those who come forward,” she said. The independent.
Ms Esslemont expressed concerns that if the police did not continue to investigate traffickers and drop a case, victims could be “punished for the failure of the state”.
Suella Braverman says the new small boat legislation “does not violate” international law
Patrick Ryan, chief executive of the charity Hestia, said: “We work with thousands of survivors every year and have seen no evidence to suggest that modern slavery support processes are exploiting people seeking asylum in the UK.
“We need to be tougher on organized criminals who take advantage of vulnerable people, not victims.”
The Home Secretary admitted in an official statement that the bill may breach the ECHR and government documents list the “prohibition of slavery” and the “prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment” among the clauses under threat.
Scottish National MP Joanna Cherry, who chairs the parliament’s human rights committee, claimed the bill was “designed to breach” the ECHR to support an argument for its repeal.
“Global human rights are under attack in the UK like never before,” he said The independent.
“It is widely believed that the Tories plan to clash with the European Court of Human Rights and then fight the next election on the platform of leaving the Convention.
“They will tell voters that the problems created by tens of thousands of asylum seekers entering the UK cannot be solved without this. It is a desperate last-ditch roll to prevent defeat at the next general election by weaponizing fears of “illegal” immigration and “invasions”.
Many small boat migrants found to have “reasonable grounds” for modern slavery claims remain in a backlog of NRM cases, but of those completed, 85 percent were accepted as victims.
The statistics cast doubt on the home secretary’s repeated claims that modern slavery protections are being “gamed” by small boat migrants, and the Office for Statistics Regulation has warned that the available evidence does not support the claims.
But when introducing the new law on Tuesday, Suella Braverman told parliament: “Modern slavery laws are being misused to prevent movement. That’s why this bill bars illegal entrants from using modern slavery rules to prevent removal.”
The government has drawn up the bill without a slavery watchdog, having left the post vacant since Dame Sara’s term ended in April.
Ms Braverman canceled an earlier appointment process in December and the timing of a new round of hires means there will be no commissioner while the illegal immigration bill is subject to parliamentary scrutiny.
Of the 83,236 people who arrived in the UK on small boats between 2018 and the end of last year, only 7 per cent were reported to the National Referral Mechanism as modern day slaves, but the vast majority claimed asylum.
Albanians account for the highest number of NRM referrals for small boat migrants as of 2018, although Vietnamese and Sudanese have a higher referral rate and the rate for Eritreans and Ethiopians is the same (13 percent).
Those with sound judgments receive housing, financial support, legal aid and medical care, pending a final reasoned decision.
If accepted, they receive 45 days of ‘move-in’ support aimed at helping them recover and transition to a new life.