LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Victims of human trafficking are being held in indefinite detention by the British government, according to a new report by the Jesuit Refugee Service in the UK.
The JRS UK said the system used to determine whether an asylum seeker is a trafficking victim – called the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – is not working correctly and said there are “good reasons for thinking that the Home Office’s interest in immigration control undermines the system for identifying and supporting victims, resulting in their continued detention.”
The Home Office is the government department that handles immigration.
JRS UK said there was a “systematic disregard” by the department for its own rules for the protection of victims of trafficking and other forms of modern slavery, leaving a high number of vulnerable people in detention.
The organization said that between March 2017 and Sept. 2018, it had supported 13 victims of trafficking in immigration detention, despite the fact trafficking is not the intended focus of their work – it added that an organization specializing in fighting modern slavery would have probably identified several more in the same context.
Most of those encountered were Vietnamese nationals who had been forced to work on cannabis farms and were arrested in police raids. The fact they were caught in a criminal enterprise is cited as the reason they are still being detained, even though they were being forced to work against their will.
“The reasoning given by the Home Office for continuing detaining victims of torture and trafficking is incredulous to say the least. These are people who have been victimized by violent criminals and then found their experience held against them when it should have prompted sympathy and support,” said Sarah Teather, the director of JRS UK.
Teather served as a member of the UK Parliament from 2003-2015 and was Minister of State for Children and Families from 2010-2012.
During her time in government, Treacher led the negotiations to stop the detention of children in the immigration system, and later chaired a parliamentary group focused on support for refugees, including the issue of detention.
“This research again reveals the cruelty of the detention system and is a snapshot of a system which routinely incarcerates too many people for far too long. The widespread detention of vulnerable individuals, including the victims of trafficking and victims of torture is particularly egregious. But indefinite detention itself creates vulnerabilities in all who suffer its injustice,” she said.
The UK is the only European country without a statutory time limit on immigration detention.
“Our volunteers routinely come across extremely vulnerable individuals whose conditions are made worse by the uncertainty and despair that surrounds them,” Teather said.
In the report, JRS UK says the Home Office should institute an absolute bar on the detention of victims of trafficking or any form of modern slavery and that the competent authority for determining whether someone is a victim must be completely independent of the Home Office and have no interest in immigration control.
The organization also called for proper training for staff in identifying and assisting trafficking victims.
“Those who are the victims of trafficking are some of the most vulnerable people in society. Their subjection to further trauma within detention shows the complete lack of compassion and understanding on the part of the Home Office,” Teather said.