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Illegal Migration Act a 'huge shift' in the UK's approach to modern slavery

Statement from the Modern Slavery PEC on the Illegal Migration Bill becoming law.

Published: 20th July 2023

The Illegal Migration Bill has been voted through the Parliament and received Royal Assent to become law.

The Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC) has warned that the Act represents a ‘huge shift’ in the UK’s approach to modern slavery and risks increasing trafficking and modern slavery in the UK.

The Modern Slavery PEC has developed a detailed analysis of available evidence related to the potential impact of the modern slavery measures in the Bill, now Act, which concluded that:

  1. The Act denies protections and support for people who have been trafficked, affecting potentially thousands of people each year, strengthening the hands of traffickers, as people who were exploited will be more reluctant to come forward and be identified out of fear of detention and removal. It also risks making people who migrate to the UK more vulnerable to exploitation.
  2. The Act will limit the UK’s ability to prosecute traffickers and will deny justice for survivors. Prosecutions of traffickers overwhelmingly depends on support from survivors, but those under the scope of the Act – unless in specific limited circumstances – will be detained and removed from the country, making it near impossible to support prosecutions.
  3. The Act is incompatible with the UK’s international obligations the UK signed up to, confirmed by an independent Modern Slavery PEC- commissioned legal analysis carried out by Dr Marija Jovanovic from the University of Essex.

The evidence on it is clear: the Act risks increasing trafficking in the UK.

Dr Victoria Tecca, Policy Impact Manager at the Modern Slavey PEC

Dr Victoria Tecca, Policy Impact Manager at the Modern Slavey PEC, said:

“This is a huge shift for the UK’s commitment to address modern slavery. The evidence on it is clear: the Act risks increasing trafficking in the UK.

“People who are forced into exploitation deserve protection from those who exploit them. Now, that basic principle will be removed if they entered the country in an irregular way, even if they were forced to do so by their traffickers. Instead, they will be detained and potentially removed."

A person with lived experience of modern slavery, who doesn’t wish to be identified, said:

“We need to remove barriers to successful prosecutions, not create more. But the Act is likely to have a big impact on the UK’s already low prosecution rates of traffickers and let many off the hook.

“In my case, the person who exploited me is behind bars and – to a large extent thanks to the support I received - I managed to turn my life around, regain my sense of agency and support myself independently. Under the Act, that would not be possible and my trafficker would still walk the streets today and recruit more people to exploit.”

The Modern Slavery PEC will now take proactive steps to monitor the Act’s implementation, including forthcoming statutory guidance, and its potential and emerging impact on modern slavery and people who are affected by it. It’s unclear at this point when different provisions will come into force and how they will come into operation, but the Centre will keep analysing available data and evidence as this process progresses.

Photo: Dan Keavey via Unsplash