Hundreds of possible trafficking victims in detention centres, figures suggest

Hundreds of potential trafficking and slavery victims were held in immigration detention centres last year, figures suggest.

Home Office statistics show more than 500 potential victims were detained under immigration powers in the UK last year, according to the organisation After Exploitation.

The data mapping project, which uses Freedom of Information requests to try to track what happens to victims, claims some will have spent time in detention while they were legally entitled to support like counselling and access to a safe house.

According to the figures After Exploitation obtained, 507 people were detained at immigration removal centres between January 1 and December 31 2018 , for whom the Home Office decided there were “reasonable grounds” to believe had been trafficked.

The news comes as Women for Refugee Women (WRW) publishes a separate report which claims victims of modern slavery and sex trafficking are being “failed” by the Home Office.

Maya Esslemont, director of After Exploitation, said: “The physical and psychological legacy of exploitation can last for years.

“Yet, after just a few days, victims of slavery are expected to co-operate with a ministerial department which fails to protect them from detention or deportation.

“We strongly urge the Government to reconsider the Home Office’s involvement in the National Referral Mechanism process, as clear conflicts of interest have led to this unjustifiable failure to protect victims of modern slavery from detention.”

Pierre Makhlouf, assistant director at the charity Bail for Immigration Detainees, said the figures were “staggering”, adding: “These figures confirm what we have long suspected – that the Home Office knowingly detains victims of trafficking on a large scale.

“All too often victims of trafficking are perceived as immigration offenders rather than victims.

“As long as the agency responsible for immigration enforcement is tasked with implementing the modern slavery agenda, the Government will be unable to properly implement its duty to protect victims of trafficking.”

The report calls on the Government to provide victims with 12 months of support, up from 45 days, and ensure during that time they are protected from detention or deportation.

It also says they should be automatically released from detention if assessed as being trafficking victims and there should be “strict, transparent and consistent rules” on the process.

Last week MPs heard calls for a ban on the policy after professionals working with victims described the approach as detention for “administrative convenience”.

The Home Office said 479 of the 507 people in question were assessed while detained and are thought to have been trafficked.

Some 328 of the 479 were released within two days of the assessment and a total of 422 within a week, a department spokeswoman said.

The Home Office said: “We have made significant improvements to our approach in recent years, but remain committed to going further.

“Any person who claims they are a victim of trafficking will, with their consent, have their claim considered by a trained specialist and will not be required to leave the country while this decision is pending.

“A positive decision entitles that person to support and guidance and is taken into consideration when deciding their immigration case.”

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