Number of trafficking victims held in detention centres doubles

The number of potential trafficking victims being held in prison-like settings has more than doubled in 12 months, despite guidance which says they should be housed and supported.

A total of 1,256 potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking were held in immigration detention centres by the Home Office in 2019 – up from 507 in 2018. The potential victims were detained under immigration powers but were in fact legally entitled to support, including counselling and access to a safe house.

Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre, Heathrow. Picture: Google Maps

Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre, Heathrow. Picture: Google Maps

The figures were obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests made by data mapping project After Exploitation, and relate to the period January 1, 2019, to September 30, 2019.

A spokesman for global anti-slavery charity Hope for Justice said: “Victims of trafficking and modern day slavery have already faced unthinkable abuse at the hands of those who were exploiting them. To then hold them in detention centres is to extend their period of suffering. Victims should be supported and given both short and long-term care to help with their ongoing recovery.”

The figures related to immigration detainees who were found to be potential trafficking victims before, during or after time spent in immigration detention centres last year.

After Exploitation has argued that the 1,256 potential victims have been “subjected to a secondary form of imprisonment” after escaping exploitation. 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, since our initial findings in 2019, no meaningful safeguards have been put in place to prevent the detention of slavery survivors in need of support.”

In July last year, the then Immigration Minister, Caroline Nokes, pledged to reduce the number of people detained and “protect the vulnerable”.

The Home Office oversees a detention safeguard called ‘Detention Gatekeeping’ which is meant to identify immigrants too vulnerable to detain, including those who have been trafficked. The government is also responsible for identifying human trafficking victims and deciding who is a trafficking victim, through a process called the National Referral Mechanism.

Hope for Justice has signed a petition urging government to commit to “data transparency” on the outcomes of modern slavery survivors.

Sign the #SupportedOrDeported petition by clicking the button below: