UK “Illegal Migration Bill” Exacerbates Risks for Survivors of Modern Slavery: IOM
London/ Geneva – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is deeply concerned by the recently proposed changes to the modern slavery protection system in the United Kingdom (UK) as part of the new Illegal Migration Bill. The proposed changes if passed would limit survivors’ ability to report trafficking and access assistance, which risks exacerbating the vulnerability of victims, giving traffickers more control over them and deepening risks of further exploitation.
IOM’s analysis of the UK Home Office’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM) - the UK’s official system to identify and support victims of modern slavery and trafficking - data highlights important concerns for survivors of modern slavery including unreasonably long waiting times for decisions, which alarmingly increase two-fold in the case of women. Based on its experience of working with survivors and carrying out research, IOM estimates that the current number of referrals is only the tip of the iceberg, with many victims going unnoticed as they choose not to seek help for fear of being deported.
“There have been several statements around irregular migrants allegedly abusing the modern slavery protection system. Publicly available data shows no evidence of abuse,” said Christa Rottensteiner, IOM UK Chief of Mission.
“In addition, only 7 per cent of individuals arriving in small boats are referred as potential victims of modern slavery,” she added.
The proposed Illegal Migration Bill in its current form would make it impossible for victims who arrive in an irregular manner to access the NRM and get the support and protection they need. Instead, these persons would be detained and removed.
Victims have a right to a period of recovery as well as protection needs that must be addressed. While States have a sovereign right to manage mobility on their territories, this must be done in compliance with international and regional law obligations and conventions, including the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings (ECAT). In line with the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights’ guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking, victims of trafficking should not be subject to detention or prosecution for the irregular entry or residence in transit or destination countries1.
IOM advocates for a shorter waiting time in the NRM, particularly for women. This could be achieved by strengthening the system capacity to process the backlog as well as the increasing number of referrals, in line with efforts by the UK government and other referral partners aimed at improving the capacity to efficiently recognize cases of modern slavery. Alongside faster decision-making, post-NRM support also needs to be improved, so that those receiving a positive decision can receive appropriate care, including support to access the labour market.
IOM stands ready to support efforts to strengthen longer-term assistance provided to survivors, including through our skills training and integration support.
“We appreciate the UK’s leadership in tackling modern slavery nationally and globally, and we encourage it to continue to lead on best practices to support survivors,” concluded Rottensteiner.
1The Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons, Issue Brief on the Non-Punishment of Victims of Trafficking, 2020
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In London: Abir Soleiman, email@example.com, +44 (0)747 019 5306
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The Illegal Migration Bill was introduced in the Commons on 7 March 2023. Its purpose is to “prevent and deter unlawful migration, and in particular migration by unsafe and illegal routes, by requiring the removal from the United Kingdom of certain persons who enter or arrive in the United Kingdom in breach of immigration control”.
- Illegal Migration Bill, 3 facts on Modern Slavery in the UK
- IOM UK's briefings provide analysis of the publicly available UK NRM data on potential victims of modern slavery and are regularly published here.
National Referral Mechanism (NRM)
In the UK, potential victims can be referred to the NRM only by specialized organisations. Half of the cases are referred by the Home Office.
Publicly available data on NRM decision-making shows that the guidance on who can access the system, with limited appeal rights, is already sufficient. The high percentage of positive Conclusive Grounds decisions also suggests that the initial threshold set to make a positive Reasonable Grounds decision was appropriate.
The Home Office (decision-maker) concluded that almost 90% of individuals referred to the NRM in 2022 who received a decision were victims of modern slavery and trafficking.
UK nationals represent 25% of all referrals to the NRM. Referrals of UK nationals have increased more than 3,000% since 2014, with UK children making up nearly half of all potential child victims of modern slavery in 2022.
Despite allegations of abusing the NRM, two thirds of Albanian nationals referred as potential victims of modern slavery in 2022, who received a decision from the Home Office, were found to be victims. Albanian nationals have been in the top three most referred nationalities in the NRM since records began in 2014.
The waiting time for an NRM decision is currently the biggest challenge, taking a significant toll on women. There are approximately 30,000 people waiting on an NRM decision as to whether they are a victim of modern slavery, including people first referred in 2014 and 2015.
In 2022, the average waiting time for such decisions was 543 days, with 1,066 days waiting time for women compared to 448 days for men.
Those receiving a positive decision from the Home Office confirming that they are a victim of modern slavery often face a cliff-edge when NRM assistance comes to an end. Ensuring that survivors can benefit comprehensive support in the long term is essential, including measures to enable them to access the labour market. IOM’s expertise in offering skills training and integration support to survivors of trafficking offers important learning on employment support for survivors.