illegal migration bill – 7 reasons to reject the bill

The Illegal Migration Bill will ban support for victims of human trafficking and other forms of modern slavery. Migration is not illegal and vulnerable people are at the heart of this issue. Find out why the Bill will cause more suffering – and what you can do about it.
refugees arriving to the UK via small boats

Unseen wants to see an end to vulnerable people risking their lives making dangerous journeys across the English Channel, but the Illegal Migration Bill is not the way to do it.

If this becomes law, it will ban support for victims of modern slavery and cause more suffering. 

Unseen believes the Illegal Migration Bill is inhumane and does not recognise people’s human rights. We think the Bill should be scrapped in its entirety.

Here are 7 reasons why Unseen rejects the Illegal Migration Bill.

1) The new Bill, if it becomes law, bans support for victims of modern slavery

Under the new rules, genuine victims of human trafficking arriving in small boats, or by any other “irregular” means, will not be allowed to enter the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), which is the Government’s system to identify, support and protect victims of human trafficking and modern slavery.


2) This new law could trap countless victims of modern slavery and human trafficking in indefinite exploitation

Victims worried about their asylum status will be forced underground, where they could continue to be exploited.

Traffickers will have more leverage over their victims as they can threaten to report them to the authorities, where they will be deported.

Did you know current victims of trafficking and modern slavery are entered into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM, the Government system for supporting victims of modern slavery) regardless of their immigration status?

3) The new law, if passed, treats victims of human trafficking and modern slavery as criminals

Modern slavery is a crime; being a victim of modern slavery is not.

The law is an effective green light for traffickers to carry on doing what they are doing, as it focuses on the victims of trafficking and not the perpetrators.  


4) The Bill proposes blocking the possibility of people challenging wrongful decisions in the courts

This is a worrying precedent for the rule of law and our fundamental human rights.


5) Genuine victims of trafficking and modern slavery could be held in immigration detention or unsuitable accommodation for years

The Illegal Migration Bill 2023 puts a duty on the Home Secretary to remove everyone that arrived in the UK irregularly, including victims of human trafficking and modern slavery.

However, this is only possible if the UK has a returns agreement with another country or a safe third-country agreement.

So far, the UK Government has a returns agreement with only Albania, Georgia, Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Serbia, and has only managed to reach a third-country agreement with Rwanda.

The Home Secretary will have the power to detain people for 28 days (or more), meaning that the Government could need to detain thousands of vulnerable people.

This policy is only going to cost the taxpayer more. The annual financial cost of operating the UK’s detention system for the year ending March 2022 was around £94 million.

And what of the human cost? Unseen believes that no human trafficking victim should be held in immigration detention.


6) Massive abuse of the system is a myth

The Government says there is a “massive abuse” of the modern slavery system by people arriving in the UK by “irregular” means, such as small boats crossing the Channel. This is simply untrue.

Only 6% of people that travelled across the channel in a small boat in 2022 claimed they were victims of modern slavery (or were referred as victims of modern slavery). 


7) The overwhelming majority of people who arrive across the Channel by boat and say they are victims of human trafficking are considered to have a legitimate claim by the Government’s own processes

85% of the 6% of people arriving in small boats in 2022 who were identified as potential victims of modern slavery received positive reasonable grounds decisions.

This means the Home Office decision-maker believes that a person is a victim of modern slavery.

The difference between trafficking and people smuggling

It is not helpful that some politicians and journalists deliberately conflate human trafficking and people smuggling.

Confusing these two very different things makes it easier to get the public to accept changes to the law that will harm victims of modern slavery.

Human trafficking is a crime against the individual. It is a form of modern slavery, with traffickers using force, coercion, or deception to trick people into exploitation and the movement does not need to be across an international border – it can be across a street.

Smuggling, facilitated by criminal gangs, is something entirely different. It is a crime against the state – paying someone to move an individual illegally across an international border.


What you can do

Please write to your MP opposing the Illegal Migration Bill.

Many MPs are supportive of this Bill because they’re assuming their constituents hold the same views. They need to understand that this assumption is wrong and that many members of the public disagree with the principles behind the Bill and want to see better treatment of potential victims of modern slavery.

Please write to your MP, telling them you do not support the Bill and sending them a link to this article.

You can find their details here.

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Justine Currell

As I came to understand more about the issue, including through a visit to an Unseen safehouse, I knew I needed to do more to stop this abuse and exploitation.

For the last five years of my Civil Service career, I was the Modern Slavery Senior Policy Advisor in the Home Office and led on development of the Modern Slavery Act, including the transparency in supply chains provision and business guidance.

I joined Unseen to lead the development of the Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline, and Unseen’s work with businesses. I am regularly called upon to present at national and international conferences and use my experience of working with Ministers to influence other governments internationally to take action to address modern slavery and, in particular, business supply chain issues.

In my spare time I enjoy keeping fit, music, reading and travelling.

Andrew Wallis

What ultimately compelled me to act was a report on how people from Eastern Europe were being trafficked through Bristol airport to the USA. Kate Garbers, who went on to be an Unseen Director, and I wrote to all the city councillors, MPs and the Police Chief Constable challenging them on the issue. The challenge came back to us: this city needs safe housing for trafficked women. And so Unseen began.

But we never wanted Unseen to be just about safe housing. We wanted to end slavery once and for all, and that remains our driving focus.

I chaired the working group for the Centre for Social Justice’s landmark report “It Happens Here: Equipping the United Kingdom to Fight Modern Slavery”. This is now acknowledged as the catalyst behind the UK’s Modern Slavery Act of 2015. It was a great honour to be awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours that year. On the other hand, I’ve also been described as “the loveliest disrupter you could ever hope to meet”.

This job has taken me from building flat-pack furniture for safehouses, to working with businesses to address slavery in supply chains, to delivering training, raising awareness and advising governments around the world.

When not at work, I enjoy travelling, spending time with my dog Harley, cooking, supporting Liverpool and Yorkshire CC, music (I’m a former DJ) and endurance events such as the Three Peaks Challenge and Tribe Freedom Runs – which I vow never to do again. Until the next time.