Trafficked into detention: new research from Detention Action

Trafficked people in detention are being denied the full protection of the Home Office’s flagship system for protecting victims of modern slavery, according to new research by Detention Action.

Many victims of trafficking are taken to high-security detention centres after being picked up in raids on places of exploitation such as cannabis factories.  Once in detention, they are treated as irregular migrants to be removed, and find it difficult to access support for victims of modern slavery.

The Home Office is the main body responsible for referring people in detention to the National Referral Mechanism, the Government’s system for protecting victims of trafficking.  This creates a conflict of interest with the Home Office’s role in detaining and removing undocumented migrants.  In practice, it appears that the Home Office is failing to identify and properly refer all victims of trafficking in detention.

Detention Action examined the cases of 16 Vietnamese men with indicators of trafficking in detention, finding that only nine had been referred to the National Referral Mechanism and only two accepted, far below the national average.

The UK is unique in Europe in detaining migrants with no time limit.  As a result, victims of trafficking are held indefinitely in conditions similar to high-security prisons.  They are often traumatised by detention and unable to disclose their experiences or access support and advice.

Susannah Willcox, Advocacy Coordinator of Detention Action, said: ‘Theresa May has made defending victims of modern slavery a top priority.  But Government concern for trafficked people too often stops at the gates of detention centres.  Once they are locked up for removal, there is often no way back to the protection to which they are entitled.  The Government should urgently introduce effective screening and an independent system of referrals to the National Referral Mechanism, to ensure that no victim of trafficking is left in detention.’

Hien, who was trafficked to the UK as a child, beaten and forced to work in a cannabis factor, before being detained for 11 months in a detention centre, said: ‘Never felt I was asked properly, never had the opportunity to discuss it [trafficking]. The Home Office ask very closed questions, they never trusted me so I never felt comfortable talking to them about it. They didn’t believe my age when I arrived.’

You can download and read Detention Action’s latest research in full, Trafficked into detention briefing 1117.