Author: May Bulman
Victims of trafficking are being released from immigration detention back to the addresses where they were enslaved in what has been branded an “unacceptable” failure to protect vulnerable people from re-exploitation.
Lawyers said the Home Office was showing disregard for the safety of people who had been trafficked after it emerged safe housing was not being arranged for victims on their release – often leaving them with no option but to return to the location where they were abused.
In one case, a Chinese woman who was exploited as a sex slave for five years in London, was released from Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre last month and told to make her way to the address in Barking where she had previously been discovered being forced to work in the sex trade.
When a decision has been made through the national referral mechanism (NRM) – the UK’s framework for identifying victims of modern slavery – that a person is a potential victim, they are entitled to receive specialist support which is subcontracted out to the Salvation Army. In order for arrangements to be made for that person to be transferred from a detention centre, the Home Office is expected to liaise with the charity.
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However The Independent has been informed of numerous cases where the Salvation Army has not been informed, leaving vulnerable victims with no safe address to go to.
Shalini Patel from Duncan Lewis Solicitors, who represents the Chinese woman, said she received a call from the victim – known only as “H” – on 20 May, saying she had been released and was sitting in the visit reception area and didn’t know where to go.
Ms Patel contacted the Salvation Army, who informed her they had “no record” of the woman. The caseworker at the Salvation Army subsequently submitted a complaint to the Home Office stating that the woman had been “released to nobody” and that this “implied grave safeguarding concerns”.
The caseworker added: “This is not the first time this situation has occurred within Home Office and IRCs [immigration removal centres]. It is completely unacceptable and we need to liaise, communicate and understand each other’s processes to find a positive solution to dealing with victims of modern day slavery and human trafficking.”
A Home Office spokesperson told The Independent the department “accepted and regretted that the correct processes were not initially followed” and said they were investigating the case.
In a separate case, a female trafficking victim who was released from detention and not provided with safe housing through the Salvation Army last December subsequently went missing, which her solicitor said indicated she may have been re-trafficked.
Frank Field MP, chair of the Modern Slavery Act review, said the cases were “truly shocking” and highlighted “carelessness” among Home Office caseworkers, while Labour MP Paul Blomfield said they demonstrated that support for modern slavery victims was “failing”.
Ms Patel said the case of her client showed that the safeguarding of detainees was “not a priority” for the Home Office and was “yet another example of the complete lack of empathy for their cases and what they have been through”.