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Immigration ‘system trauma’ the biggest recovery barrier for trafficked children

Press release: New research finds trafficked children face asylum ‘system trauma’, Illegal Migration Bill might make things worse.

Published: 11th July 2023

Researchers looking into the long-term outcomes for trafficked children in Scotland have found that children face ‘system-trauma’ connected to navigating asylum, welfare, and child protection systems, which the proposed Illegal Migration Bill risks making substantially worse.

The research undertaken by The University of Stirling, was supported by Just Right Scotland and Terre Des Hommes, and funded by the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC), which in turn is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Research concluded that current Home Office delays in granting asylum applications and the uncertainty of removal from the UK created long-term ‘system-trauma’ to the children and young people who were trafficked. It found that commonly they are left in ‘limbo’ and do not know if they will be returned to their country of origin when they turn 18 or granted asylum so they can continue their studies, remain with their friends and their community.

The research team worked closely with the Scottish Guardianship Service (SGS), which works directly with trafficked and exploited children. Researchers also worked directly with survivors of exploitation to understand what recovery following child trafficking meant to them. Young people described the often-overwhelming feelings associated with waiting for their asylum outcome and the impact of this on their mental and physical health, education or work and friendships.

This comes in the context of the finding of the study that long-term stability and security are key to recovery from trafficking, which the young people described as very often a long-term process. It takes time for young people to develop confidence to make and voice their choices, regain a sense of control, the ability to think about their future and being able to acknowledge their exploitation.

Certainty over legal status is a key part of that process. However, the Illegal Migration Bill threatens that security, giving the Home Secretary the power to detain and remove young people who were trafficked into the UK having arrived via irregular routes from the UK.

A young person who has received support from the Scottish Guardianship Service said:

“I just told them everything what they asked me, because I was told that they need to know, in terms of help with my case, and help me settle down here. I went through hell to give them all the information. We do lawyer appointments every week, or twice a week, and stay there hours and hours and hours and explain with details, everything. And you can imagine how painful that was for me.”

A social worker interviewed in the study said:

“If you think about it, education and being safe takes a back seat. Because if you don't know whether you're staying or not, you live in limbo, you can't plan forward, you can't make any plans, you start losing the motivation of why. I might be deported, so why do I even want to learn English, why should I continue with college.’

Dr Maggie Grant, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Stirling, who led the study, said:

“The Illegal Migration Bill is deeply concerning as it has the potential to directly impact on children and young people affected by trafficking by rendering many asylum claims inadmissible and, once children reach 18 years of age, providing a legal route to remove them from the UK.

“Children and young people have told us how important long-term security is in their recovery, from having a settled legal status, to building trusting relationships with their peers and people who support them. The Bill as presented is likely to have seismic consequences for separated and unaccompanied children who experienced trafficking not only in Scotland but across the UK.”

Currently services focus on the immediate and short-term safety of children, however, greater focus needs to be had on their long-term recovery, so young people can thrive after exploitation.

Liz Williams, Policy Impact Manager at Modern Slavery PEC said:

“The need for long-term support for people who were trafficked is a common theme in the research we have funded.

“The fact that the Bill would remove protections for people who were trafficked depending on how they entered the UK, is already an enormous shift in the UK’s response to modern slavery. Under the Bill children might face detention and removal from the country, impacting on recovery and exposing to them to further harm .”

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact the Modern Slavery PEC’s Communications Director, Jakub Sobik at j.sobik@modernslaverypec.org or on 07912 145 610.