Anti-slavery charities have warned that safeguards for victims of human trafficking are being threatened by Britain’s withdrawal from the EU with the breakdown of cooperation between member states putting people at risk.

EU directives can legally bind member states to enact legislation. A 2011 EU directive committed members to further combat human trafficking, as well as provide protection and support to victims.

Other initiatives have simply come from cooperation with other states, including non-members.

The National referral mechanism (NRM) – the framework used in the UK to identify victims of trafficking and slavery and offers them appropriate support – was introduced in 2009 to meet the UK’s obligations agreed at the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Human Trafficking in 2005.

Ryan Mahan, from Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT), told The Independent, ‘Almost every significant trafficking victim-protection provision we have in law and policy in the UK has been implemented as a direct result of the Convention.’

‘Including protecting victims of trafficking from prosecution for crimes they are forced to commit.’

The Modern Slavery Act in 2015 was hailed as a landmark by the Government, but charities have been critical of its lack of victim support.

‘There is a distinct lack of clarity offered within the Act in regards to the provision of victim protection,’ Kate Garbers, managing director of anti-slavery charity Unseen, told The Independent:
‘This needs to be addressed ahead of us leaving Europe and the protections of the EU Directive so we are in a position to ensure that all victims, regardless of nationality get access to the support they need.’

A report by the select Committee for the Department for Work and Pensions expressed concern about the situation of EU nationals once confirmed as victims. Issues such as housing, additional benefits, and their right to stay in the UK without employment.

Baroness Butler-Sloss GBE, a trustee of the Human Trafficking foundation, told the committee: ‘There is no entitlement of any sort for a person who has been positively identified as a victim of slavery and this is an appalling lack.’


Words: Sid Hayns-Worthington


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