Taskforce on Victims of Trafficking in Immigration Detention

11 expert organisations working with, or for, victims of trafficking have formed a new Taskforce on Victims of Human Trafficking in Immigration Detention. The Taskforce will work to ensure no victim of trafficking is detained under immigration powers.

The member organisations are:

Other organisations that wish to join the Taskforce are welcomed to make expressions of interest to [email protected]ploitation.org.

The members have published the following joint statement:

JOINT STATEMENT FROM THE TASKFORCE ON VICTIMS OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN IMMIGRATION DETENTION

11 organisations working with, or for, victims of human trafficking have formed the new Taskforce on Victims of Human Trafficking in Immigration Detention.

The Taskforce will seek an end to the detention of victims of human trafficking under immigration powers and will advocate for vital changes to government policy and practice regarding this issue.

The Taskforce is comprised of expert organisations, working for, and with, victims of human trafficking in immigration detention. Members include: Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), Anti Slavery International, Bail for Immigration Detainees, Ashiana Sheffield, Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees (AVID), Medical Justice, Duncan Lewis Public Law, Jesuit Refugee Service UK, Helen Bamber Foundation and Women for Refugee Women.

We believe the government has failed to adhere to its international obligations, and its own guidance with regard to victims of human trafficking.

Members believe that immigration detention should play no part in a progressive and fair immigration system. Until this is realised, the Home Office must immediately strengthen and implement its own guidance to ensure that no victim of human trafficking is ever detained. Instead, victims, and people who may be victims, should be provided with the support to which they are entitled under international and national frameworks in the community, including adequate material assistance, secure accommodation, psychological assistance and legal information and support. Such meaningful support is crucial to enable people who have not yet been identified as victims to disclose their trafficking, and for people already found to have been trafficked to recover, seek justice and rebuild their lives. Locking up people who have experienced exploitation is completely at odds with any meaningful national plan to address modern slavery.

Numerous government-commissioned or parliamentary reports and inquiries have already demonstrated that the Home Office is failing vulnerable people and prioritising its immigration function over their needs and rights. These include the 2016 Shaw Report, the 2018 progress report also undertaken by Stephen Shaw, and the 2019 reports by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and by the Home Affairs Select Committee.

Despite the findings of these various inquiries, and a commitment made to reduce the detention of vulnerable people, ample evidence demonstrates that victims of human trafficking are still being detained in immigration detention centres in the UK.

Most recently, Women for Refugee Women, a member organisation of this Taskforce, highlighted the plight of 14 Chinese women victims of trafficking who had been detained in Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre.

Today, this evidence is bolstered with the launch of a new report from the Labour Exploitation Advisory Group, which has found evidence of 143 victims of trafficking who have experienced immigration detention. Other organisations in this Taskforce, including the Jesuit Refugee Service and Detention Action, have also published reports or have evidence from casework of this same egregious issue.

These cases are not anomalous: the members of this Taskforce, and other organisations throughout the UK, are aware of, or have worked with, detained victims of trafficking of different nationalities and genders in several different detention centres.

The government has stated that it seeks not to detain victims of human trafficking and that it has policies and practices in place aimed at reducing the number of vulnerable people in detention. However, we consider that this is at odds with the reality, as evidenced by the experiences of victims in detention.

The Home Office should make an absolute and total commitment that no potential victim of trafficking will be detained in an immigration detention centre.

Additionally, the UK government must make meaningful changes to its detention policies and practices to ensure that people who may be victims are kept out of detention. This includes:

  • Introducing a more effective screening process prior to the decision to detain to ensure that potential victims of trafficking are identified at the earliest opportunity.
  • Introducing independent judicial oversight of the decision to detain, thereby removing the Home Office’s monopoly over detention decisions. The detention of victims of human trafficking demonstrates that current ‘detention gatekeeper’ processes are highly problematic and must be reviewed.
  • Funding independent support providers to have presence in all Immigration Removal Centres to act as a first point of contact to people who have experienced trauma, abuse and exploitation, and to act as independent first responders to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), ensuring potential victims are identified at the earliest opportunity and released into appropriate support.
  • Ensuring that criminal convictions arising directly and solely from victims’ exploitation are not used as reasons to detain or to continue detention.
  • Ensuring that anyone referred into the NRM from within detention is immediately released into appropriate and secure accommodation.

The Taskforce looks forward to engaging with the Home Office and government more broadly on this important issue and hopes, through its joint and powerful advocacy, to win vital changes and an end to the detention of victims of human trafficking in the UK.