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Concern as lack of funds forces end to ‘places of safety’ service

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CHARITIES have criticised the government for dropping plans to provide further help to modern slavery survivors.

The Home Office said a “places of safety” scheme, first announced in 2017, was being axed due to a lack of funding. In addition, a pledge in 2021 offering tailored support for at least 12 months to victims was also being dropped.

Modern slavery offences include servitude, forced or compulsory labour and human trafficking, with victims unable to escape their situation due to threats, punishment, violence, coercion and deception.

The Unseen charity said the number of people from India affected by modern slavery in the UK rose from 41 individuals in 2021 to 261 in 2022.

India is the second most prevalent potential victim nationality. People of Indian origin also made up the largest proportion of labour exploitation cases.

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A spokesperson for Unseen, which runs the Modern Slavery Helpline, told Eastern Eye: “Providing early and ongoing support for survivors of modern slavery is vital. Our focus needs to be on protecting and supporting the vulnerable individuals who have been subjected to horrendous abuse and exploitation.

“We can only do that by helping them to make informed choices about their next steps and supporting them effectively to recover and move on from their ordeal.

“There is a direct correlation between good support for victims and their willingness to engage with police and the criminal justice system.”

The figures from Unseen also revealed Pakistan was the 10th most prevalent potential victim nationality in 2022, with 54 potential victims. People of Pakistani origin were also the third most common nationality in potential minor victims.

Individuals from a Bangladeshi background were identified in 12 potential cases of labour abuse in 2022.

Fizza Qureshi, CEO of the Migrants’ Rights Network, told Eastern Eye: “Every year, there is an increasing number of individuals being identified as victims of modern slavery because this government has failed to address the root causes of modern slavery.

“The UK’s visa sponsorship system is being used to effectively traffick workers into exploitative situations.

“Instead of supporting the victims, it has created a situation where the victims are further victimised by the government by failing to treat them with compassion, or offering the vital and long-term holistic support they need to thrive. This latest move signals the UK’s intent to abandon victims of modern slavery and leave them vulnerable to further harm.”

LEAD Modern slavery INSET Fizza Qureshi

Fizza QureshiCaitlin Boswell, policy and advocacy manager at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said there were more broken promises from the government, as it rows back on its commitment to support survivors of modern slavery in “desperate need” of safety and support.

“Survivors of trafficking and modern slavery have gone through incredible trauma, [and] 12 months’ support is the very least they should be offered. Sadly, it seems his government is too heartless to manage even that,” Boswell said.

Eleanor Lyons began her job as the new anti-slavery commissioner in December for a fixed duration of three years. The role had been vacant since Dame Sara Thornton finished her term in April 2022.

Jamie Fookes, UK advocacy manager at Anti-Slavery International, said the Places of Safety scheme was a step in the right direction. It offered adult survivors of trafficking who were leaving immediate situations of exploitation a place of refuge, of assistance and to seek advice for just three days before making the decision of whether to enter the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).

Fookes said: “A survivor must give informed consent to enter the National Referral Mechanism, and be in a position to give evidence and go through a rigorous process, which has been made even harsher by the Nationality and Borders Act.

“Places of Safety was intended to provide survivors with the security, calm and safety to make this decision and prepare themselves alongside expert caseworkers.

“Or, to give a survivor the space to decide that entering the mechanism is not best for them and look into the other options available.”

Fookes added: “Without the safety, specialist advice, and time that Places of Safety has intended to provide, survivors are forced to make a quick decision about a complex process.

“This will unlikely be an informed decision and is not trauma-informed. We fear that many people will slip through the net, leaving survivors without urgent advice, medical support, or psychological assistance in the days after exiting exploitation. This is not the care and compassion we call for.”

The Home Office said the ‘places of safety’ support model to provide a safe and secure place for individuals rescued by a law enforcement officer from an immediate situation of exploitation was considered as an optional service”

. It said this was reviewed and “funding is unavailable to introduce and efficiently implement this new service and therefore, we are not moving forward with a ‘places of safety’ support model”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Modern slavery is a barbaric crime and we are committed to ensuring the necessary support is available to victims of modern slavery to help them rebuild their lives.

“We remain focused on delivering the existing £379 million Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract service as smoothly as possible, and to working with first responders to ensure victims understand the support and protection that is available to them.

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