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As a victim of trafficking, reclassifying modern slavery as an immigration issue will only make things worse

(Alamy)

3 min read

One of the first acts of this government has been to remove responsibility for modern-day slavery from the safeguarding minister and treat it as an illegal immigration issue.

The Home Secretary has claimed this is because people “gaming the system are derailing the United Kingdom’s policy on illegal migration”. 

As someone who has experienced modern-day slavery first-hand, I know this is not the case. Like so many others, I fell into the wrong hands in a desperate quest to seek safety. My sponsor made me pay him to keep my visa valid, he used my documents to claim benefits in my name, and when I could no longer work threatened to report me to the Home Office and have me deported to my home country where I had experienced brutal torture and trafficking.

Coming forward in the first place is incredibly difficult, adding further barriers is not the answer

Fear engulfs you; you have no understanding of the system and no support. These new steps that the government are taking will only serve to make things worse for those caught in a catch 22 situation.

Ultimately, I applied for asylum and was identified as a victim of modern-day slavery,

I now work supporting refugees and migrants, some of whom have been in a similar situation to myself, at the Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre.

This comes just a few short months after the government’s controversial Nationality and Borders Act, which passed amidst the backdrop of the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War.

Part 5 of the Act, concerning modern-day slavery, was heavily criticised in December of last year in a report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. It casts doubt on the credibility of potential victims of trafficking or slavery based on how quickly they can submit evidence.

I know from first-hand experience that this latest measure alongside the Act will make it harder for those trafficked and enslaved to speak out. Clause 58, which says that a delay in disclosing the details of traumatic experiences should damage an individual’s credibility, is simply unfair.

The Act itself lacks any clarity around timescales and fails to provide what will be considered reasonable grounds for missing a deadline. The reality is people in this situation have suffered traumatic experiences that they will find difficult to revisit, paperwork and evidence is often in the hands of the traffickers. Coming forward in the first place is incredibly difficult, adding further barriers is not the answer.

And now the issue is one of “illegal immigration” and “gamers”, whilst Suella Braverman’s comments make for headline grabbing news, the reality is that not only are the largest single group of those referred British, but 97 per cent of referrals in the first quarter of this year were confirmed as genuine.

Another barrier to seeking escape from the hands of traffickers is not what is needed. The hostile environment turns the screw once more. Surely it is better for a tiny percentage of Braverman’s “gamers” to succeed if it means that 97 per cent (many of whom are children) are safeguarded from further exploitation?

The government has failed to catch up with the public outpouring of support for people fleeing the war in Ukraine and recent polls suggest that most Britons are in favour of migration. Perhaps then it is time to see those fleeing war, torture, abuse and exploitation – wherever it is being carried out – as innocent until proven guilty.

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