Urgent calls for UK government to protect survivors of modern slavery

Hope for Justice is urgently calling on the UK government to protect survivors of modern slavery during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Many of those who have faced exploitation are struggling to access care and essential services and risk falling back into the hands of those who exploited them.

This is especially true of individuals with insecure immigration status, in cases where they have not yet been formally identified as a victim of modern slavery or human trafficking, for example.

Hope for Justice is one of 56 signatories that have joined with the clinical and human rights charity, Helen Bamber Foundation, in urging the government to safeguard survivors.

A signed report has been sent to the Home Office, calling on government to publish a “coherent strategy” for survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery.

Phillipa Roberts, Hope for Justice’s Director of Legal Policy, said: “We are fully supporting this report because it is vital that the most vulnerable people in our society are safeguarded and protected through this crisis.

“Essential to this is short-, medium- and long-term planning specific to survivors, coupled with ensuring that victims have clear immigration status so that they can more easily access services that they need.”

The report calls for the UK strategy to comprise “specific procedural measures” to protect and safeguard them through this public health crisis.

It also recommends the formation of a COVID-19 Modern Slavery Crisis Committee, made up of experts from the UK’s clinical and anti-trafficking sectors.

Survivors often have physical and mental health conditions relating to their exploitation, in addition to damaging psychological impacts caused by victimisation. Vulnerabilities such as these places them at high risk of contracting COVID-19.

This is coupled with the difficulties faced by survivors in trying to access healthcare – issues worsened by the crisis – namely, language barriers, limited internet access and deprivation.

Kerry Smith, Chief Executive Officer of the Helen Bamber Foundation, said: “Urgent action is required to make sure that during this crisis no survivor of modern slavery is re-victimised. Fears about immigration status is one of the key concerns survivors we work with tell us about when we speak to them.

“Granting three years leave to remain will mean that all survivors can be confident about their right to live safely in the UK throughout this crisis and therefore remain safe and avoid further trafficking risks.”

Read the full report here.