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After Exploitation and Women for Refugee Women find large numbers of potential victims of trafficking are subjected to immigration detention


Report says nearly 3,000 potential trafficking victims detained since 2019

Date of Publication:
05 February 2021

After Exploitation and Women for Refugee Women find large numbers of potential victims of trafficking are subjected to immigration detention

05 February 2021

A new report by the NGOs After Exploitation and Women for Refugee Women published yesterday has found that the UK is increasingly detaining potential victims of trafficking and modern slavery in immigration detention centres, with several thousand detained since 2019.

CoverThe 17-page report can be downloaded here.

The NGOs say that they obtained data after submitting Freedom of Information (FOI) requests which illustrates that 4,102 individuals with trafficking indicators have been detained since 1st January 2019.

The vast majority of the 4,102 detained were men (84% or 3,444).

Of the total number of individuals with trafficking indicators detained, the NGOs found 2,914 were potential victims of trafficking and had received acknowledgement as having 'reasonable grounds' in a trafficking claim, and in principle were eligible for support and assistance.

After Exploitation and Women for Refugee Women found there has been a concerning increase in the use of detention, noting: "The most recently available data as of 2020, obtained by After Exploitation, showed that the practice of detaining potential victims of modern slavery has been increasing year-on-year. The figures show the number of people, recognised by the Home Office as potential trafficking victims, before, during, or after detention more than doubled from 410 to 914 between 2017 and 2018. By 2019, the annual detention of potential trafficking victims had tripled. These figures show that safeguards, intended to recognise people too vulnerable for detention, were frequently failing to spot indicators of trafficking and safeguard against wrongful detention."

While there has been a significant reduction in the use of immigration detention since the Covid-19 pandemic, the report found that 969 people with trafficking indicators were nevertheless detained in 2020.

The report did not give overall details on the length of detention, though one case study highlighted in the report was of a woman who had been detained in Yarl's Wood for nearly eight months in 2017. She was conclusively recognised as a victim of modern slavery in 2020.

Theresa Schleicher, Casework Manager at Medical Justice, said the numbers in the report, although high, are likely to be the tip of the iceberg. Schleicher said her organisation frequently encounters survivors of trafficking in detention who have not been recognised as such by anyone before.

Maria Thomas of Duncan Lewis Solicitors added that she believed the Home Office's practice of truncating asylum screening interviews, pursuant to an unpublished policy, had contributed to the detention of hundreds of vulnerable trafficking survivors.

Gemma Lousley, Policy and Research Coordinator at Women for Refugee Women, said: "The 'Adults at Risk' policy, introduced in 2016 to supposedly reduce the number of vulnerable people in detention, has consistently been found not to have achieved this. During the coronavirus pandemic, the situation for vulnerable people in detention has become even worse. The detention of thousands of people who are potentially trafficking victims cannot be understood as the result of unresolved 'problems' or 'deficiencies' within an overall well-intentioned system. Rather, it is the inevitable outcome of the hostile and neglectful system that has been put in place."

Maya Esslemont, Director of After Exploitation, said: "In press statements, the Government routinely acknowledges that modern slavery is a 'heinous crime' capable of inflicting physical, psychological and interpersonal devastation on survivors. Yet, in 2021, the Government has refused to introduce immigration protection for survivors. An absolute ban on the detention of survivors has also been ruled out. The Government must urgently reverse its position, which is leading to unthinkable numbers of trafficking victims being held in prison-like settings when they should be receiving support."

In response to the report, a Home Office spokesperson was quoted by Sky News as saying: "The vast majority of these individuals raised modern slavery experiences, and were then referred, while in immigration detention or after they had been released from detention, to get the support they deserve.

"We consider all cases on an individual and case by case basis, and have safeguards in place which underpin detention decisions, including regular reviews when someone is in detention to ensure it is lawful, appropriate and proportionate."