From self-styled modern slavery leader to abandoning trafficking victims – what happened?

From self-styled modern slavery leader to abandoning trafficking victims – what happened?

From self-styled modern slavery leader to abandoning trafficking victims – what happened?

The U.K. has just passed the Illegal Migration Act into law in a devastating attack on the rights of migrants, refugees and trafficking victims. This cruel legislation is the latest effort to restrict immigration under the hostile environment, an approach that prioritises the tightening of borders over the protection of human rights. 

Freedom United, alongside hundreds of allies, has been campaigning against the Illegal Migration Act which rips up modern slavery protections for anyone who reaches the U.K. via an irregular route. We are deeply alarmed at the law’s passage and the impact it will have on modern slavery survivors, and will continue to loudly oppose this inhumane law.

From the Modern Slavery Act to the Illegal Migration Act

The U.K. government is intent on dismantling vital protections under international law for people reaching the U.K. through irregular routes, which many are forced to do given that safe routes to the U.K. are virtually non-existent. Trafficking victims are at risk of being overlooked and denied support, detained indefinitely, and deported. 

In this context, the U.K.’s Modern Slavery Act (MSA) rings hollow. Writing for openDemocracy, Cameron Thibos explores why the Conservative party has overseen the undermining of modern slavery victim protections despite the MSA having been brought in under a Conservative government.

In 2015 the U.K.’s Conservative government led by Theresa May passed the MSA, hailed at the time as a crowning achievement that offered “world-leading protections” for trafficking victims. Since then, we have seen the passage of some of the most draconian anti-migrant provisions ever seen in the U.K., all under Conservative leadership, that will abandon trafficking victims.

Thibos observes that while the MSA created a system for officially identifying victims of modern slavery and offered a small group of people some limited support, the main purpose was far from a real effort to support modern slavery victims. The MSA was designed to dissuade and punish migration by creating a hostile environment through targeting the individuals that made irregular entry possible, all cloaked in the guise of victim protection.

Kate Roberts, Head of Policy at Focus on Labour Exploitation, said: 

“The MSA was flawed from the start as it never directly addressed the hostile environment, or had a rights-based, preventative approach to slavery. The act did not aim to address the structures which create risks of exploitation, or provide for early intervention against abuse. Had it done so this would have meant challenging wider policies on immigration.”

The hostile environment must go

In The Truth About Modern Slavery, author Emily Kenway, an advisor to the first independent anti-slavery commissioner, pointed to the “nonsensical situation” of the government’s approach to immigration being to dismantle the MSA rather than the hostile environment it was created in.

Thibos writes:

The MSA will remain law unless a government passes legislation to repeal it. But the Illegal Migration Bill will see to it that only British citizens and foreign nationals with a regular legal status will be allowed into the National Referral Mechanism. The MSA’s protections will no longer be available to migrants arriving irregularly in the UK, regardless of what they might have experienced along the way. All they will be met with is hostility.

We urgently call on the U.K. and all government to implement a safe and humane migration system that protects people from exploitation, and ensures trafficking victims can seek support. Take a stand by adding your name to the petition now!