Modern slavery and immigration – the facts

How many people claim to be victims of modern slavery so they can stay in the UK?

Is it true that many asylum seekers are “gaming” the system by claiming they are victims of human trafficking? 

The facts tell a very different story to the one you might have heard recently.  

They show that modern slavery in the UK is not an immigration issue. In 2021 nearly a third (31%) of all potential victims of modern slavery were from the UK. 

The evidence also shows that the vast majority of people claiming to be victims of modern slavery are found to be genuine – 91% in 2021 and currently 97% in 2022. And that is after the claimants have been investigated by the Home Office itself.  

The truth about modern slavery and illegal immigration

According to the official figures for the whole of 2021, 91% of people who claim to be victims of modern slavery are found to be genuine.  

This is known as a positive conclusive grounds decision.   

In the first half of 2022, there were positive conclusive grounds decisions in 97% of cases.  

That means only 3% of claims were refused – and this doesn’t necessarily mean they were abusing the system. 

“Unseen along with other anti-slavery charities have repeatedly asked the Home Office to show us evidence that the system is awash with fake claims,” says Unseen CEO Andrew Wallis. 

“What we are seeing is vulnerable people suffering severe trauma because they are being exploited or enslaved, right here in the UK. Surely that’s where the focus should be? 

“To put out spurious claims without facts or context is verging on irresponsible. The result is we’re treating vulnerable people as criminals when they most need our help, and distracting attention from the real criminals behind slavery and trafficking.”  

Want to help tackle modern slavery? Find out what you can do. 

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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.