Britain’s latest anti-migration legislation has led to fewer asylum approvals, parliamentary inquiry hears
Victims and survivors of trafficking would face a real threat if they were returned to their home countries, says speaker during session.
Migration legislation that became law last year has led to more negative grounds for asylum applications by irregular arrivals, a British parliamentary committee heard Wednesday.
Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights gathered to discuss the human rights of asylum seekers in the UK and the effects of the Nationality and Borders Act, which was passed in the chamber in April 2022. However, Part 5 of the bill, which made changes to the Modern Slavery Act and related policy, came into force on Jan. 30, 2023.
Speaking during the session, Robyn Phillips, director of operations at the Human Trafficking Foundation, said that 83,236 people arrived in the UK on small boats between Jan. 1, 2018 and Dec. 31, 2022.
“Only 7% were referred as potential victims of modern slavery, and actually in the 2022 calendar year, it was only 6%,” she said, adding that 85% of the referrals were recognized as genuine claims by the Home Office.
Major Kathy Betteridge, director for Anti-Trafficking and Modern Slavery at The Salvation Army, said they do not have fresh data on arrivals for the period that starts from when Part 5 of the law went into effect. Highlighting that her organization is a first responder for the arriving individuals, Betteridge said they are receiving referrals on a regular basis.
“The numbers are still coming through, but the decisions for negative reasons for grounds has risen, and that also links very much with the subjective evidence required within the Nationality and Borders Act.”
Betteridge said she realizes that it can be difficult for victims to gather or submit evidence.
“We've asked some of our survivors who we're working with, who are now in our service, what would that have meant for you if you had been required to submit evidence, and they said it would have been very traumatic, it would have triggered further trauma because they haven't kept anything and they don't have any evidence that gives the authority, the evidence that they're required to produce.”
Philips agreed and gave examples of individuals who fear exposing traffickers. She went on to say that a quarter of traffickers are British citizens and that human smuggling should not be conflated with trafficking, which involves exploitation and threats for one’s life.
Kate Elsayed-Ali, policy manager at the Anti-Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit (ATLEU), said it is important to remember that many victims and survivors of trafficking will make an asylum claim because of their situation of trafficking and that they would experience a real threat if they were returned to their home countries.
According to Elsayed-Ali, many irregular arrivals do not even know they are victims of modern slavery or human trafficking, which gives them the right to live in the UK. She said the Nationality and Border Act made the whole process more complex, bringing risks of rejecting the claims of survivors.
Asked how to distinguish an ordinary asylum seeker from someone who is a victim of trafficking and modern slavery, Betteridge said as the first responder upon the individual’s arrival to the country, their organization would hear the person’s story in detail to see if they are potentially a victim.
“On the permission of them, that will then be processed through the National Referral Mechanism. The decision-making is made by the competent authority, and upon the decision-making, they will decide whether the person has got negative or positive reasonable grounds,” she said, adding the process takes up to 535 days on average.