A survivor of modern slavery being supported by Hope for Justice has received £9,000 in compensation from the UK Home Office after being unlawfully held in a detention centre.
Aleksander*, who is in his late 50s, was living in poverty, battling mental health problems and alcohol dependence in Poland when he was preyed upon by traffickers who sought to exploit his vulnerabilities for their own profit.
Hope for Justice has been advocating on his behalf since 2017 when he was rescued from forced labour in the West Midlands area.
One of the charity’s Independent Modern Slavery Advocates (IMSAs) said: “Aleksander was brought to the UK under false pretences, only to find that he would be transported from place to place, and forced to carry out manual labour. He was put to work in factories, as a gardener, as a decorator and general labourer.
“Following his rescue, Hope for Justice stepped in to provide support. But at the time, the authorities did not believe that he was a victim. When a formal decision was made on his status, he was evicted from a safe house within two days and made homeless.
“It was out of this desperate situation that Aleksander stole food in order to survive, but he was put in prison and then sent to a detention centre.”
Modern slavery victims are entitled to safe house accommodation through the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the UK’s framework for identifying victims – which is run by the Salvation Army under a Home Office contract.
However, at the time Aleksander was within the NRM, this entitlement lapsed as soon as the Home Office issued a decision on an individual’s status as a victim. The government contract funding required subcontractors to move survivors out within 48 hours of receiving a negative conclusive grounds decision and within 14 days in the case of positive decisions. Since then, the process has changed to nine days when a negative decision is given and 45 days when positive.
Eviction left Aleksander facing homelessness and at risk of being re-trafficked. He contacted Hope for Justice asking for help. The organisation in turn referred Aleksander for advice and put him in touch with a solicitor and aided communication between the two parties. The firm took on his case and challenged the Home Office negative conclusive grounds decision.
While they reconsidered his status as a potential victim of trafficking, Aleksander was unlawfully held in a detention centre for about two weeks. While people await a decision on whether or not they will be positively identified (known as a conclusive grounds decision), they have a legal right to access specialist services and support.
Aleksander was eventually placed back in a safe house and the government later overturned their original decision. He is now formally recognised as a victim of modern slavery.
Hope for Justice’s IMSA has been advocating on his behalf throughout the process, and has managed to secure Aleksander an independent flat. He has recently undergone alcohol detox treatment.
The IMSA said: “We are hopeful for Aleksander and for his future. Our main focus is now to stabilise his immigration status in the UK and to support him in accessing welfare assistance if he needs it.”
*Name and image changed to protect identity of victim