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The UK Has Denied Thousands of Child Trafficking Survivors the Right to Remain: Reports

Why Global Citizens Should Care
There are 45 million people trapped in slavery across the world — more than at any other point in human history. Ending modern slavery and human trafficking are crucial to achieving UN Global Goal 8 to achieve decent work for everyone. You can take action here to help protect the world’s most vulnerable people.

When Theresa May was the UK prime minister, she described modern slavery as "the great human rights issue of our time.” 

Her words were backed up with the 2015 Modern Slavery Act: a “truly ground-breaking” and “world-leading” piece of legislation that led to a historic first conviction, £33.5 million in funding, and a government taskforce.

Yet financial support to survivors was also cut by 42% under May’s leadership — described by a high court judge as an “irrational and perverse” decision, and one that was eventually overturned by the high court.

Now, new data obtained by children’s rights organisation Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT) from Freedom of Information requests has found that despite UK pledges to tackle modern slavery, thousands of confirmed modern slavery survivors have been denied safety and protection since the 2015 legislation was passed.

The findings, published on Oct. 17 to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the UK's Anti-Slavery Day, paint a bleak picture of a country that once prided itself on caring for the vulnerable — for example, when the UK took thousands of child refugees fleeing Nazi Germany during the Kindertransport mission ahead of World War Two.

From 4,695 confirmed foreign modern slavery survivors based in the UK, according to the data, just 28 children and 549 adults were give discretionary leave to remain between 2016 and 2019. The Guardian reports that experts believe up to half of the total victims were children.

That means that children were refused an immigration status that would have permitted them to temporarily stay in the UK after experiencing extreme suffering; which campaigners say puts them at increased risk of deportation.

However, there are gaps in the information provided: the Home Office did not disclose how many of the total were children, and we do not know how long the children were granted discretionary leave to remain for. But for the vast majority (74%) of trafficking victims granted that leave, the temporary security on offer lasted between seven months and a year.

“The data confirms what we know from our direct work with young people – that we have a system forcing victims of child trafficking to navigate very complex immigration procedures and leaving them effectively stranded as they turn 18,” said Patricia Durr, the CEO of ECPAT.

“We urgently need an integrated process for child victims that sees them as children first, protects and cares for them and identifies what is in their best interests long-term, and ensures everyone is working together to find a long-term durable solution for them, including decisions on their immigration status,” she added.

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There were over 10,000 cases of modern slavery referred to the UK government last year — a rise of 52% to a record high. These cases can include sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, and forced labour, the most common form of slavery.

In total, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) believes that there are at least 100,000 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK, at an economic and social cost of billions.

When questioned on the issue of modern slavery in the House of Commons on Oct. 14, Prime Minister Boris Johnson — who succeeded from Theresa May — said:  "It is this government, this house, and this country that is leading the campaign against modern slavery.”

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A spokesperson for the Home Office added in response to the data findings: “The government is determined to end the abhorrent exploitation of children and young people and to tackle the criminal gangs that put them at risk.”

They continued: “In the year to August 2020, 65% of confirmed victims of modern slavery who were considered for discretionary leave to remain were granted it, or already had or were granted a higher form of leave.”