UK’s people trafficking referrals at record high, Home Office data shows

Government’s system for potential trafficking victims to access support had 4,171 referrals from April to June

The number of referrals for people trafficking has increased by a third in the last year, according to Home Office data, with nine out of 10 suspected cases accepted to be victims.

The number of referrals for the period April t0 June 2022 was 4,171 – the highest number recorded since the national referral mechanism (NRM) was introduced in 2009. This is the government’s system for potential victims of trafficking to access support and have their cases investigated.

While the numbers of referrals are at record levels, there are also a large number of potential victims who have chosen not to be part of the NRM. Their fate is unknown. In the April to June 2022 period there were 1,125 such cases, also the highest number since these records began in November 2015. These cases include instances of labour and sexual exploitation.

Albanians were the largest nationality group of suspected victims of trafficking, followed by British and Eritrean victims. About half of potential victims reported exploitation in the UK, with the rest overseas.

Many suspected child trafficking victims are exploited by county lines criminals. In 2021 there were about 500 of these cases each quarter. The latest quarterly figures show 589 county lines referrals, the highest since this data was collected.

Albanians have been a Home Office target for deportation. A recent charter flight to Albania on 4 August deported a mix of foreign national offenders and asylum seekers. Home Office sources said no suspected trafficking victims who had been referred to the NRM were on that flight.

Campaigners have expressed alarm at the lack of support available for potential victims of trafficking. According to the new Nationality and Borders Act, support for trafficking victims is at the discretion of the Home Office.

Maya Esslemont, of After Exploitation, which monitors and analyses government trafficking data, said: “We are worried to see a rise in recorded modern slavery cases at a time when the circumstances of so many survivors seems uncertain.

“Since the Nationality and Borders Act was brought into force, survivors no longer have a guarantee of support even if they are recognised as trafficking survivors by the Home Office’s own decision-makers. Today’s figures show just how urgently this government needs to step up and address the long-term challenges facing each of the victims recognised as an NRM statistic.”

Iryna Pona, a policy and impact manager at the Children’s Society, said: “The record numbers of referrals show what huge problems modern slavery and exploitation are for all children, whether they are British or migrant children trafficked to the UK.

“More than a third are suspected to have been groomed and coerced – usually with terrifying threats – to commit crime, which can include carrying drugs in county lines operations, while scores more are believed to be victims of sexual exploitation. Children who are forcibly trafficked here from abroad – or offered an escape from war or persecution by being sold a dream of a new life of hope – are also often made to work in places like cannabis farms, car washes and nail bars, or forced to beg.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are committed to tackling the heinous crime of modern slavery and in the UK we have a world-leading system to support those who are genuine victims.

“But we must also tackle any abuse in the system which has contributed to decision-making taking far too long, at the detriment to those who are genuinely in need. That is why we have brought forward changes through the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and will continue to review and reform the NRM system.”


Diane Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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