Four out of five rejected trafficking claims were overturned in UK last year

Four out of five rejected human trafficking claims challenged in the UK last year were overturned, according to newly obtained figures that have raised concerns that poor decision-making is putting lives at risk.

Out of 325 claims in the Home Office-run national referral mechanism (NRM) scheme that were appealed, 255 were reversed. They represent a significant number when compared with the 1,213 rejected trafficking claims in total last year, although the figures cannot be directly compared, as some of the appeals may relate to decisions made in previous years. There are also concerns that some survivors and victims do not appeal because they lack guidance on how to do so.

Maya Esslemont, the director of the data-mapping organisation After Exploitation, which obtained the figures through a freedom of information request, said: “Survivors are routinely denied trafficking support, such as safe housing, medical support or psychological help, even when they are entitled to it. Delays in providing assistance are not just inconveniences, but life-threatening failures which can leave survivors at risk of destitution, reprisals from traffickers, and repeat exploitation.”

Anti-Slavery International said the government had failed to deliver promised support for victims and survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery before entering the NRM and this had left them without advice to appeal against rejected claims.

“Specialist government-funded support is not available until after a positive first-stage decision [under the NRM],” said the charity’s UK and Europe programme manager, Kate Roberts. “This means most who are wrongly refused are unlikely to receive help in appealing a negative decision. This means they could be left without support and vulnerable to retrafficking or re-exploitation.”

Both After Exploitation and Anti-Slavery International warn the government’s new plan for immigration will only make the trafficking claims process harder. The plan says there has been “rising abuse of the NRM”. It says NRM referrals more than doubled between 2017 and 2019 from 5,141 to 10,627 but provides no figures on how many claims may have been vexatious.

Esslemont said: “It is vital that the government scraps the plan to make an already hostile trafficking process even tougher. The new plan for immigration must be stopped, and a commitment to pre-referral support must be made so that suspected victims can access advocacy throughout the whole decision-making process.”

A Home Office spokesperson claimed the use of the figures was “misleading and wrong”.

“In 2020, only 2% of … [all] decisions were reconsidered,” they said.

“Our new plan for immigration will fix the broken asylum system, ensuring those who genuinely need protection get the support they need. We will welcome people through safe and legal routes whilst preventing abuse of the system, cracking down on illegal entry and the criminality associated with it.”

The Home Office said some of the successful appeals only involved particular elements of claims – and not entire decisions – being overturned. It did not provide figures on the number of cases this applied to.

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