Trafficking victims ‘forced into homelessness and re-exploitation’ as they are denied immigration status

Hundreds of people recognised as survivors of modern slavery between 2015 and 2017 had no right to remain in Britain so were unable to access permanent accommodation and financial assistance, says British Red Cross

The Independent

Modern slavery survivors in Britain who do not have UK or EU nationality are being forced into homelessness and further exploitation because they are denied immigration status, charities have warned.

The Home Office policy of giving recognised survivors of trafficking only 45 days of support leaves them facing poverty and struggling to cope with complex mental health needs, a report by the British Red Cross and support organisations Hestia and Ashiana reveals.

Foreign nationals from outside the European Union are placed at the most risk because they have no automatic right to remain in the UK after the Home Office has accepted them as being modern slavery victims, and are subsequently ineligible for basic support services.

Freedom of information data obtained for the report found that 752 people recognised as survivors of trafficking between 2015 and 2017 had no right to remain in Britain and therefore were unable to access permanent accommodation, mental health support and financial assistance.

The British Red Cross said the lack of support for non-UK/EU nationals who had been confirmed as survivors of modern slavery was exacerbating their mental ill-health and putting them at risk of re-trafficking.

Sara, an Ethiopian national whose name has been changed to protect her identity, was identified as a victim of trafficking through the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the government’s process for determining whether someone is a survivor of modern slavery – in 2012 after she was discovered working as a domestic slave for a family in the UK.

The 33-year-old told The Independent she was given around six months of government support under the NRM but that this was then cut off. She applied for asylum but this was refused.

“I was working for the family. I don’t want to remember that. It’s very hard to talk about because I want to forget that. It’s not good. It was really hard,” she said.

“When I asked for asylum I was refused three times, so I had no support from the Home Office – no house. That was very hard, oh God, very hard. I had to stay with friends. I spent all day outside, and every night a different house.”

She added: “Then the Red Cross and Ashiana helped me. They gave me a house, food, clothes. They gave me a bus pass as well, and a solicitor.

“But I am still waiting for my ID card. I don’t understand – it’s taken eight months, since January. Really, I’m tired. It’s been eight months now. I can’t work, I can’t learn English. If you have no papers, it’s very hard.”

The warning from charities comes after The Independent revealedministers had been accused of prioritising immigration control over survivors’ right to support by knowingly holding victims of modern slavery in removal centres, in what experts said was a breach of the law.

The new report was based on victims supported by the British Red Cross, Ashiana and Hestia as part of a year-long pilot to offer long-term support to people across the UK.

Half of those supported by the project were female survivors of sexual exploitation, yet most had previously been placed in mixed-sex accommodation where male guests had unregulated access to the property – making them more vulnerable to further exploitation, said the charities.

Repeated rehousing also resulted in survivors – 66 per cent of whom had mental health needs – having substantial difficulties accessing treatment and repeatedly falling to the bottom of waiting lists. 

More than half of those supported by the pilot had children, yet their needs were rarely considered in decisions made about their parent, with repeated moves having a negative impact on the children’s well-being and education. 

The three charities are now using the findings to call on the Home Office to provide tailored support for at least one year to anyone recognised as a survivor of trafficking under the NRM, as well as leave to remain in the UK for at least 30 months to give people the time to recover and receive the help they need. 

The call comes a month after the Home Office, facing a judicial review of their current policy, was forced to accept that longer-term support is needed for victims of trafficking. But details of what this system will look like are still to be announced.

Naomi Philips, head of policy and advocacy at British Red Cross, said the charity “too often” saw victims without a secure immigration status at risk of falling back into exploitation because they were unable to find somewhere to live or a way to feed themselves.

“By implementing the recommendations we make in this report, the Home Office can ensure that being recognised as a survivor of trafficking means that people are protected and given the safety they need to recover and rebuild their lives,” she added.

Rachel Mullan-Feroze, service manager at Ashiana, said: “This report evidences the need for a flexible response to trafficking and modern slavery which takes into account individual needs and circumstances. 

“It also highlights how immigration status underpins the ability for a survivor to resettle safely – without which, many survivors are at real risk of re-victimisation.”

Abigail Ampofo, operations director at Hestia, warned that without long-term support many victims were forced back into slavery, allowing the “cycle of abuse” to continue.

“From the thousands of survivors Hestia has supported, we know that ‘one size fits all’ doesn’t work. Victims of modern slavery need tailored and longer-term support across health, housing and their links to community to recover from their trauma and rebuild their lives,” she added.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The government is committed to stamping out the abhorrent crime of modern slavery and supporting victims to begin rebuilding their lives.

“We have already significantly increased support for victims earlier this year – including the length of time that an individual can receive support – and we will continue to drive improvements to the services available to ensure they are meeting the recovery needs of victims.”

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