Alarm as immigration enforcement teams granted power to make decisions on modern slavery cases
In new guidance published this week, the department reveals that it has introduced a new decision-making body to deal with referrals to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the UK’s trafficking identification framework – specifically from people facing deportation from the UK.
Dubbed the “Immigration Enforcement Competent Authority” (IECA), the team is separate from the existing “Single Competent Authority” (SCA), which previously made decisions on all modern slavery claims.
The guidance states that the IECA will be responsible for a “specific cohort” of adult NRM cases, including people in immigration removal centres and foreign national offenders who are subject to deportation.
Vem depois ministers pledged to prevent non-British nationals from being able to “frustrate immigration action” by disclosing late in the process that they have suffered exploitation. Campaigners believe the new policy is part of this effort.
A Home Office spokesperson said the change was about “ensuring that those making decisions are able to access the information they need to make the right decisions without unnecessary delay”.
“When a potential victim of modern slavery is referred into the NRM, it is important that they receive a decision as quickly as possible to provide certainty and secure the correct support to assist with their recovery," eles disseram.
But lawyers and charities working with trafficking victims saidthe move risked “muddling” immigration enforcement and victim identification, which they said would “play into the hands of exploiters who use the threat of detention to prevent victims seeking help”.
Kate Roberts, head of policy at Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), said introducing the new decision-making body was a “backwards step which risks undermining the integrity of the UK’s identification system”.
“It makes no sense and risks creating inconsistencies in decision making which allow exploitation to thrive as victims are driven underground and made vulnerable to re- exploitation by the system failing to correctly identify them," ela adicionou.
A solicitor who has represented a number of clients in removal centres with trafficking claims, who did not wish to be named for fear of reprisals, said the policy change “on its face appears discriminatory”.
“The shifting of the decision making for this specific cohort […] indicates an underlying suspicion and distrust of foreign national offenders who raise trafficking claims. We have no information about how the IECA is constituted; its relationship with immigration enforcement more broadly; or how it is intended to operate," ela adicionou.
“Baseless accusations of individuals ‘abusing the system’ is unfair, and viewed through that lens is it is difficult to see how the decision making process of this hybrid body can be neutral.”
Senior police and lawyers raised concerns earlier this week about the Home Office’s wider plans to reduce the number of trafficking claims from immigration detainees, saying this would “water down” vital protections for victims.
They warned that it can often take a considerable amount of time for trafficking survivors to disclose their exploitation, meaning reducing the time they are given could hinder prosecutions.
The Home Office spokesperson added: “The government is committed to tackling the heinous crime of modern slavery; ensuring that victims are provided with the support they need to begin rebuilding their lives and that those responsible are prosecuted.”