More than 1,200 suspected victims of slavery and trafficking held in detention centres

More than 1,200 potential victims of slavery and trafficking were held in detention centres last year, figures suggest.

Some 1,256 people were found to be possible trafficking victims before, during or after time spent in immigration removal centres by the end of September, Home Office figures obtained by the group After Exploitation indicate.

The news prompted warnings from charities that vulnerable people were still being locked up.

In order to access support and recognition of their circumstances in the UK, victims of slavery and human trafficking have to be assessed under the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).

This determines whether, on the balance of probabilities, they have “reasonable grounds” for statutory access to medical, psychological and legal support – meaning they are considered potential victims.

They are then assessed again and, if considered to be a confirmed victim, are given a “positive conclusive grounds” decision.

There were 42 positive conclusive grounds decisions of people held in detention in 2019, 106 in 2018, and 225 in 2017 , according to the figures.

Maya Esslemont, director of After Exploitation, said: “Victims of slavery are often held by their abusers in restrictive, psychologically damaging conditions.

“This data suggests that hundreds, if not thousands, of potential victims are being subjected to a secondary form of imprisonment even after they escape exploitation.

“We are seriously concerned that no meaningful safeguards have been put in place to prevent the detention of slavery survivors in need of support.”

Some of the potential victims may have since received confirmation of their trafficking status, according to the group.

Kate Roberts, Anti Slavery International’s programme manager, said: “In prioritising immigration control over supporting victims of crime, the UK risks playing into the hands of traffickers.

“Instead of being recognised as a victim of crime, trafficked people are locked away with the prospect of immigration removal.

“In practice, it means survivors often won’t be able to support prosecutions against their trafficker or access compensation for their ordeal.”

Rudy Schulkind, policy and research coordinator for Bail for Immigration Detainees, said the figures could be the “tip of the iceberg”, adding: “We frequently encounter people in detention who display clear evidence of having been trafficked but have not been identified by the authorities.

“There will be many others that we do not encounter and are never identified.”

After Exploitation is a data mapping project using Freedom of Information requests to try to track what happens to victims of trafficking and slavery.

The group has previously called on the Government to make public data on victims of human trafficking and slavery being held in immigration detention centres to stop people who need support “slipping through the net”.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: “Detention is an important part of the immigration system – but it must be fair, dignified and protect the most vulnerable.

“We have made significant improvements to our approach in recent years, including strengthening the safeguards in place which underpin detention decisions.

“This means vulnerable people are only detained when the immigration factors outweigh the risk of any potential harm to the individual.”

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