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.