Anti-Slavery Day is a chance to pay particular attention to the grave realities of human trafficking and modern slavery. However, this year it is accompanied with deep concern surrounding the Home Secretary’s approach to these issues.
In her speech to the Conservative Party Conference on 4 October, Suella Braverman showed an alarming misconception of the realities of modern slavery. Despite the International Labour Organisation recently increasing the estimated figure of people trapped in slavery around the world in 2021 to almost 50 million (up from their previous figure of 40 million), the Home Secretary puts the UK’s 450% increase in modern slavery claims since 2014 down to modern slavery laws ‘being abused by people gaming the system’.
Since her speech, she has gone on to reclassify modern slavery as an ‘illegal immigration and asylum issue’ despite the fact that many of those trapped in slavery are British Citizens or others who are accepted to have been victims of trafficking by the UK authorities.
Her argument hinges on the fact that many of those claiming to have been trafficked paid large sums of money to enter the UK illegally. She cites Albanian nationals as an example. But this is so often how modern slavery begins. Traffickers make promises of work overseas and offer to arrange transportation – at extortionate prices. Once here, the ‘work’ turns out to be forced labour in brothels, cannabis farms or on building sites, with little or no wages, substandard living conditions and threats to family members if anyone tries to leave. You only have to look at a recent prosecution to see the reality of this.
Of those who do manage to escape and are referred into the National Referral Mechanism, the vast majority are found to be genuine and given positive conclusive grounds decisions. More not less needs to be done to help and support those who have suffered appalling experiences, and this includes appropriate legal representation.
The immigration team at South West London Law Centres regularly represents those who have been trafficked. Their clients have often been disbelieved and let down by the state with missed opportunities to help them. Due to the clients’ vulnerabilities and traumas it can take considerable time to build a successful case.
Suella Braverman’s comment – ‘As for the lawyers. Don’t get me started on the lawyers’ – sets a dangerous precedent by challenging the integrity of lawyers who are committed to keeping the victims’ interests at the heart of any discussions of modern slavery. As Pradeep Kumar, Immigration Team Leader at SWLLC says:
“Whatever this government’s approach, we will continue to fight against any inequalities and to ensure the UK’s proud history of welcoming and protecting refugees continues.”