Figures show number of potential modern slavery victims has doubled since 2017

The Home Office has announced plans to change the mechanism for dealing with potential modern slavery victims, blaming “an alarming rise in people abusing the system”. However, critics accuse the Government of scaremongering.

22/03/21

Figures show number of potential modern slavery victims has doubled since 2017

The Government says it is going to change the mechanism for dealing with modern slavery victims after what it calls an “alarming rise of abuse” within the system.

The Home Office says “child rapists, people who pose a threat to our national security, serious criminals and failed asylum seekers will find it harder to take advantage of modern slavery safeguards” under changes to be announced this week.

Frontline workers, including local authority social workers and the police, have a duty as ‘first responders’ to refer a potential victim of modern slavery into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the Government’s system for identifying victims of modern slavery. These referrals have more than doubled between 2017 and 2020 – from 5,141 to 10,613 – causing a backlog of cases.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the UK has “led the world” in protecting victims, and that those supposedly frustrating the system are diverting resources away from genuine victims.

“Our generous safeguards for victims are being rampantly abused by child rapists, people who pose a threat to national security and failed asylum seekers with no right to be here.”

However, critics have accused the Government of scaremongering, saying that the backlog is actually caused by the Home Office’s own inaction.

In the Home Office’s own 2019 data, nearly nine in ten (89%) of those referred into the National Referral Mechanism after being detained within the UK received a positive ‘initial decision’ – meaning their referral is considered further with more rigorous assessment.

Katherine Soroya, Senior Immigration Caseworker in the Legal Aid team at Turpin Miller, said she was “speechless” after the announcement.

“I've never come across a ‘child rapist’ in the hundreds of clients I've helped through the NRM.”

“If a person is a failed asylum seeker, they may well be a victim of trafficking and no one has before spotted the indicators. If found to be a victim then this could give genuine grounds for a fresh claim for asylum.

“The problem with the ‘backlog’ isn't the people being referred into the system. It is that decisions are not being made because there is no impetus to do so.”

Soroya says that rising referrals may also be attributable to growing awareness around what constitutes a victim, rather than non-genuine claims aimed at frustrating Home Office deportations.

“The legislation isn't that old and first responders, including the Home Office, are getting better at spotting the identifiers.”

Under the changes proposed, frontline workers including police, local authorities and charities will be trained to “better help them assess genuine accounts of modern slavery” before they refer it to the authorities for an assessment, the Government says.

The Government will then consult on whether to “strengthen the threshold” for deciding whether someone is a potential victim of modern slavery during the initial assessment.

The consultation will also look at the definition of “public order grounds” to enable protections to be withheld from dangerous criminals who have received prison sentences of over a year, as well as individuals who pose a threat to national security.

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