Decla Palmer of Paragon Law explains the changes and why more needs to done to help victims of modern slavery:
The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is the process by which potential victims of modern slavery are identified as victims and provided with support.
If the decision is positive, meaning that the NRM has recognised the individual as a victim of modern slavery, that person has two weeks to leave his or her safe house accommodation and specialist support is withdrawn at the same time. Many organisations have criticised the current procedure for leaving individuals vulnerable and at risk of further exploitation. There is a significant risk that victims of modern slavery will be left destitute, become homeless and disappear. Not all victims of modern slavery will be offered any form of leave to remain and those that do will only be offered one year. Often the prospect of having to return to their country of origin is enough for people to go underground and choose not to engage with services for fear they will be forced to return.
The Home Secretary has announced that recognised victims of modern slavery will now have access to ‘move-on’ support for up to 45 days after the positive Conclusive Grounds decision. There will also be the opportunity for victims to attend drop-in services for up to six months after leaving support. It is likely that these changes will be welcomed by NGOs however the issue of a person’s immigration status still remains. If that person is not granted leave to remain as a victim of modern slavery then they will be expected to return to their country of origin either voluntarily or by force unless they make another application to regularise their stay. The Home Secretary has not announced that she intends to grant all recognised victims with six months leave to remain at the very least so they can access the support she is now offering. It is worth noting that the US has a specialist victim of trafficking three year visa with a view to settlement. If the Home Secretary did feel strongly about protecting victims of modern slavery, more could be done to make sure they receive the support they need and protect them from re-exploitation in the long term. Many forms of psychological treatment cannot start until a person’s immigration status is secure. Secure immigration status also prevents re-exploitation by providing that person with access to the welfare state and with victims more likely to come forward as they would not fear removal.
Potential child victims of modern slavery do not currently receive any specialist support with the Government relying solely on social services to care for them. The current situation does not recognise that, like adults, child victims require specialist psycho-social support to recover from their experiences. Child victims are especially vulnerable due to the separation from their family. Section 48(1) of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 does provide for the appointment of Independent Child Trafficking Advocates (ICTAs). The Government has piloted the scheme twice, and has on 26 October 2017 announced the programme will be rolled out nationally.
Specialist support for child victims is certainly welcome given the current situation. Section 48 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 makes clear that these advocates will be independent from the decision maker. However, it does not state that the advocate has a duty of confidentiality to the child.
Furthermore, it is unclear whether it will be a requirement of the process that a child has an independent advocate prior to the investigation stage of the process. If the government do not provide enough advocates, it may be that a requirement to have one could cause significant delays to the process. Delays are often not in the best interests of children. The Act also provides that the ICTA can appoint and instruct a legal representative. It is not clear at this stage whether this means that the ICTA would be the individual instructing the legal representative rather than the child. Currently, unaccompanied minors who are deemed mature enough to understand advice and give instructions are not required to have a guardian to instruct on their behalf. If this is what parliament intended by this provision, the concern again would be whether the ICTA has a duty of confidentiality to the child and the significant delays in obtaining legal advice should the government not provide enough ICTAs. It is also not clear who the ICTAs will be accountable to and where a child can take a complaint should she or he take issue with the ICTAs performance or behaviour.
Whilst the changes announced are welcomed, it is clear that more needs to be done to ensure the rights and needs of victims of modern slavery are full provided for.
Paragon Law’s dedicated Asylum & Human Rights team represents many victims of modern slavery and should you have any questions or queries on this area of law, please do not hesitate to contact us on 0115 9644 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org