On 14 June 2023, Wilsons’ written evidence to the Home Affairs Committee’s inquiry into Human Trafficking (submitted on 15 March 2023), was published and can be accessed here. Katie Schwarzmann and Danny Bayraktarova, solicitors in the Public Law & Human Rights department, prepared the submissions on behalf of Wilsons.

As a specialist legal aid firm representing both adult and children victims of trafficking in their public law & human rights, family and immigration cases, we responded to the following of the inquiry’s questions:

  1. How effective is the UK’s approach to discouraging the demand that leads to trafficking?
  2. To what extent do support services meet the needs of victims who have been trafficking in or to the UK?
  3. What evidence is there, if any, that the National Referral Mechanism (‘NRM’ – the mechanism in the UK by which victims of trafficking are identified) process is being exploited by individuals seeking asylum in the UK?
  4. How can legislation, including the Modern Slavery Act 2015, policy and criminal justice system practice be improved to prevent and address human trafficking?

Our submissions highlighted how the unavailability of safe routes to claiming asylum in the UK forces many vulnerable people fleeing persecution into trafficking situations. It is not legally possible to claim asylum from outside of the UK. Therefore, an individual fleeing persecution from any other country must find a way to arrive in the UK to claim asylum. The few routes that do exist, such as the Family Reunification Scheme, the Syrian Resettlement Scheme, the Afghan Relocation Scheme, and the Ukrainian Settlement Scheme are inadequate and highly restrictive. The Afghan Relocation Scheme in particular has attracted considerable criticism in failing to provide protection to many vulnerable people who are being left behind in extreme danger. The lack of availability of safe routes pushes them into seeking invisible travel routes to the UK.

We also highlighted that, in our experience, state bodies prioritise law enforcement as opposed to providing support, resulting in many victims being charged and prosecuted for crimes they committed while enslaved or in a trafficking situation. Many of our clients report that support provided to them, either under the Victims Care Contract or asylum support provisions under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, is inadequate.

In relation to the inquiry’s question on evidence of individuals seeking to exploit the NRM, we emphasised that the Office for National Statistics found no evidence supporting the Home Secretary’s claims that individuals are abusing the modern slavery system. We also explained that, until we advise our clients that they may be potential victims of trafficking, almost none of them have any prior awareness of the NRM process, the support that is available to them and how it may affect their asylum claims or that it may act as a barrier to removal. The notion that asylum seekers are exploiting the NRM process is not reflective of the reality of many asylum seekers’ limited knowledge of the English legal system.

We made the following specific recommendations:

  1. The focus of government policy should be shifted from preventing people exploiting the system (of which there is no evidence) to that of protecting and supporting potential and confirmed victims of trafficking (in light of the substantial evidence of inadequacies in their protection).
  2. The NRM process and Single Competent Authority (the authority that determines whether people are accepted to be victims of trafficking) should be institutionally independent from the Home Office and NRM decision-making should be independent from immigration decisions and immigration control.
  3. More non-statutory first responders that victims can turn to for advice, support, and potential referral to the NRM, must be appointed.
  4. There should be long-term specialist support for victims of trafficking.
  5. Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children should not be placed in unsuitable Home Office-run hotel accommodation and should be placed in the care of local authorities under the statutory protections of the Children Act 1989.
  6. The government should create more safe routes for people seeking asylum to remove the opportunity for traffickers to exploit desperate people fleeing persecution.
  7. Public authorities should be better trained and more focused on identifying potential victims of trafficking.
  8. The adequacy of financial support and accommodation provided to victims of trafficking should be improved so that it meets victims’ specific needs.

As a result of our written evidence, Wilsons’ Danny Bayraktarova was called to give oral evidence to the committee on Wednesday 21 June 2023 and her evidence can be watched online here.

If you have a family law case you need assistance with, please contact Mavis on 020 8885 7986 to arrange for an appointment with a solicitor in the family team.

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