Unseen’s statement on the Rwanda Bill

Unseen opposes the controversial Rwanda Bill as it jeopardizes the rights of vulnerable individuals, violates human rights laws and international treaties, and signals a concerning shift in the UK's commitment to combatting modern slavery.

Updated on 23 April 2024: the Safety of Rwanda Bill has completed its passage through Parliament and is set to become law.

We remain deeply concerned by the second reading of the Rwanda Bill through Parliament on 12 December 2023.

This proposed Bill seeks to revive the Rwanda deal which threatens many vulnerable people on the move, including survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking.

As part of this plan, those who arrive to the UK by small boats, including victims of modern slavery, will be deported to Rwanda where they can claim asylum and support. 

The threefold concerns surrounding the Rwanda Bill are as follows: 

  1. Breach of human rights laws: This Rwanda Bill is unlawful and already in breach of numerous human rights laws and international conventions as ruled by the UK Supreme Court in November 2023. This legislative move creates a dangerous precedent that groups, notably vulnerable people arriving by small boats, can be stripped of their rights.
  2. Lack of specialised support in Rwanda: Victims are unlikely to receive the level of specialist support in Rwanda that they could access and are entitled to in the UK. Moving victims to an unfamiliar environment may exacerbate trauma in exploited individuals, compounding the challenges they face.
  3. Risk of re-trafficking: Unseen echoes the court ruling, which recognised a real risk of refoulement – people being sent back to their home countries where there is a high likelihood of them being subject to further harm or persecution. For victims of modern slavery or human trafficking, they face risks of further exploitation and re-trafficking. 
Government claim of "massive abuse" to modern slavery debunked

The Government claims “massive abuse” of the modern slavery system by individuals arriving in the UK through “irregular” means, such as small boats crossing the Channel.

Contrary to these assertions, the Government’s own figures reveal that only 6% of people arriving by small boats in 2022 claimed they were victims of modern slavery.

Of the 83,236 people that arrived in the UK on small boats between 1 January 2018 and 31 December 2022, 7% (6,210 people) claimed they were victims of modern slavery (and were referred to the National Referral Mechanism – the Government’s system for identifying and supporting victims of modern slavery – as a potential victim of modern slavery). 

Of this 7%, the overwhelming majority (85%) received a reasonable grounds decision from the Home Office. Of the 505 conclusive grounds decisions made by the Home Office since 2018 to people arriving in the UK on small boats, 85% were positive.  

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

To date, the Government has put forward no evidence that people are “gaming the system”.  

UK no longer sees tackling modern slavery as a priority

The Government’s position on the Rwanda Bill comes in the wake of further cuts to specialist support for victims of modern slavery and trafficking. For example, in December 2023, the Government rolled back on the promised 2017 Places of Safety scheme, a vital support model providing advice, shelter, and medical intervention post-exploitation.

This, compounded by the consistent re-conflation of modern slavery with anti-immigration measures, lays bare a stark reality which we have feared for some time: tackling modern slavery is no longer a priority for the UK.

Our commitment

At Unseen, we will continue to champion and fight for the rights of modern slavery victims and survivors to ensure they get the help they need and deserve – rights that they are entitled to under international human rights laws, including rights to fair treatment and the support to recover from the exploitation they have been through, to which the UK is a signatory.

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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.