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Government's immigration policies ‘playing into the hands of traffickers,’ legal experts warn

THE government’s focus on immigration control is “playing into the hands of traffickers,” and threatening efforts to support victims, legal experts and rights groups have warned. 

In a letter to the PM today, more than 50 legal firms and rights groups claimed that tough immigration policies are undermining laws that are supposed to protect people who have been trafficked for the purposes of forced labour and exploitation. 

More than 1,256 potential trafficking victims were held in prison-like detention centres last year alone, according to not-for-profit After Exploitation, the lead signatory of the letter. 

This is despite Home Office guidelines emphasising that victims of trafficking should not be held in detention in most circumstances. 

After Exploitation director Maya Esslemont said: “It is clear that victims may be deterred from reporting the crime to the police or accessing support, as they may face further harm due to their immigration status,” she said. 

The letter, also signed by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and Amnesty International, highlighted the fact that perpetrators use the threat of detention and deportation to ensure compliance from their victims. 

As such the government’s “exclusive focus” on immigration control is “playing into the hands of traffickers,” the letter warns. 

The groups also raised concerns that plans by Home Secretary Priti Patel to penalise asylum-seekers based on the time their claims are made or the route they take to Britain will “embolden” traffickers. 

The letter, which coincides with Anti-Slavery Day, challenges the narrative that tougher border controls impede human trafficking, stressing that, on the contrary, it makes trafficking profitable through a lack of safe routes. 

A Home Office spokesperson said that it is “committed to tackling the abhorrent crimes of human trafficking and modern slavery,” and offered “tailored support” through its national referral mechanism transformation programme.”

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