trafficking victims detained in uk

Trafficking Victim Detained Unlawfully: Home Office to Review

Home Office Policy Under Review After Trafficking Victim Unlawfully Detained

Each year, hundreds of victims of trafficking and other forms of modern slavery are detained under the UK’s hostile detention policy – despite this being unlawful.

Data analysed by After Exploitation found that the number of potential or confirmed modern slavery victims who are detained in the UK has more than doubled between 2017 to 2019; rising from 635 in 2017 to 1,298 in 2019.

Despite numerous former Home Secretaries outlining their intention to protect victims of modern slavery, they have often failed to put these words into action.

It has long been established that the government has a legal obligation to protect victims of trafficking, but this does not always materialise. In fact, the Home Office’s tough line on immigration control and its incessant criminalising of immigration into the UK – particularly regarding vulnerable asylum seekers – often contradicts and undermines its promise to protect trafficking victims.

The government has failed hundreds of trafficking victims who have experienced traumatic circumstances as many face punishment – not support – at the hands of the UK’s flawed detention policy.

trafficking victims detained in the uk
Victims of trafficking and modern slavery in the UK need protection – they must not be detained. [Image: Adria Malcolm/The Guardian]

What is needed is a system that recognises and treats these vulnerable individuals as victims; not as perpetrators to be detained. One recent case which has triggered a Home Office review of its detention policy is the unlawful holding of a Vietnamese trafficking victim in an immigration removal centre in 2019.

The Home Office’s tough line on immigration control […] often contradicts and undermines its promise to protect trafficking victims.

In 2016, the woman in question had been trafficked to the UK having previously been forced to work as a prostitute in Russia, Vietnam and France. Last year, despite the Home Office identifying this woman as a victim of modern slavery in early 2018, she was re-trafficked and subsequently arrested four months later following the raid of a cannabis farm in which she was working.

After pleading guilty to conspiring to produce cannabis, she was sentenced to 28 months’ imprisonment. Upon completing her sentence, she was then detained – despite the fact she had been officially recognised as a modern slavery victim.

To make matters worse, a medical report submitted to the Home Office diagnosed the woman with PTSD and depression – therefore reinforcing her vulnerability – yet she remained in detention.

Immigration lawyers representing this individual have since challenged both her unlawful detention and the Home Office’s detention policy, as she was released from detention 24 days later. What this inevitably shows is that her detention was unnecessary – an issue the Home Office has been criticised for on numerous occasions, as statistics reveal that many of those who are detained are later released.

Many of those still in detention centres have been crowded onto single wings, making social distancing an impossibility

The Home Office has since agreed that she was detained unlawfully and went on to say that it was reviewing its detention policy with regards to trafficking victims. This is a welcomed result but one which must translate into real change.

Detention and Covid-19

Despite pressure from a wide range of organisations across the country, the UK government is continuing to detain people in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. However, in just over a month, legal action taken by the likes of DetentionAction has seen 700 people released from immigration detention.

However, DetentionAction also made clear that, of those who remain in detention throughout the current Coronavirus pandemic, many are highly vulnerable – over 40 cases of trafficking, torture or other forms of vulnerability were found in their client group alone.

The government has a legal obligation to protect victims of trafficking, but this does not always materialis

With this, the organisation has also reported that many of those still in detention centres have been crowded onto single wings, making social distancing an impossibility. What’s more, further individuals are being detained despite these known risks – they are not being quarantined.

Perhaps most critically, there remains a lack of access to essentials including soap, sanitiser and cleaning products.

This cannot continue and there must be an indefinite end to the UK’s brutal detention system, or at the very least a suspension throughout the duration of the Covid-19 crisis.

Written by
Holly Barrow