By Annie Kelly
Victims of slavery who have acted as witnesses in the prosecution of their traffickers are ending up destitute and homeless on the streets of Britain, campaigners have warned.
Other potential whistleblowers, left without accommodation or access to support services for weeks after being identified as victims of slavery, have been forced to return to their traffickers simply to keep a roof over their heads.
“We know that once they have been formally identified as victims of slavery, most victims are not given a secure immigration status or right to remain and so find themselves almost instantly destitute and without anywhere to live,” said Kate Roberts of the Human Trafficking Foundation.
She said there was a lack of reliable data on what happened to people following positive identification as victims of slavery under the government’s national referral mechanism (NRM).
“Anecdotally, we know that some victims who have done everything they have been asked to by the authorities are actively re-entering exploitation just to get a roof over their heads. Others who have helped secure the prosecution of their traffickers are finding themselves on the streets,” said Roberts.
“At a time when the government and police services are under fire for failing to use the Modern Slavery Act to secure more prosecutions, the failure to provide victims with basic support services immediately is utterly counterproductive.”
Hope for Justice, which provides pro bono legal support to victims of slavery, said that in 2015, 70% of their clients faced homelessness and reported problems accessing welfare support.
“If someone disappears or is homeless and potentially re-trafficked, we have not only failed in a basic moral duty, we have also lost them as a potential prosecution witness,” said Phillipa Roberts, the organisation’s legal director.
Roberts said that while funding shortfalls since 2015 have meant the charity could only take on the “most at need” cases, the situation facing clients has become increasingly desperate.
Last year, a highly critical report by the House of Commons work and pensions committee said there was an “inexcusable” lack of support for the estimated 13,000 modern victims in the UK.
The committee recommended the introduction of a system to give all confirmed victims of slavery at least one year’s leave to remain, with recourse to benefits and services.
Currently, the Home Office provides victims of trafficking with 45 days of support while they go through the NRM process, with an additional two weeks if they receive a positive identification. Last October, the government announced it was extending post-identification support to 45 days.
“Obviously we welcome any extension but, while this is some help, it is still not sufficient to ensure that victims are not falling off a cliff-edge at the end of this period,” said Roberts.
Anti-trafficking charities have formed a new coalition, Free for Good, to support new victim support legislation written by Lord McColl of Dulwich, aiming to implement the recommendations of the Work and Pensions Committee in law.
“The government does not have an understanding of what happens to victims of modern slavery once they have been rescued, leaving them impoverished, homeless and often deported to a country where they have no friends or family,” said Frank Field, the Labour MP taking the bill through the House of Commons.
In a statement, the Home Office said: “In October 2017 we announced a package of reforms to the national referral mechanism, the system for identifying and supporting victims. Confirmed victims of modern slavery will receive a minimum of 90 days’ specialist support, including accommodation, subsistence, counselling, access to mental, physical and dental health services, and signposting to legal support.”
Published on The Guardian on January 25, 2018