The UK Government’s Nationality & Borders Bill, the anti-refugee bill, will have a serious impact for survivors and victims of trafficking.

What is Human Trafficking?
  • Human Trafficking is a serious form of abuse perpetrated against an individual, in which an individual has been exploited, or there is an intention to exploit them
  • Trafficking inflicts severe harm on the individual, often with serious long-term effects on their physical and mental health
  • Trafficking is considered child trafficking if the victim is under 18 years old, in which case there is no need to prove that any means were employed against the child
  • The Scottish Guardianship Service provides a Guardian to children who have been trafficked, the children we support have been variously exploited in labour exploitation, sexual exploitation and criminal exploitation, for example in nail bars or in cannabis cultivation
  • Trafficking happens to people with British citizenship as well as migrants and people in search of sanctuary
What does the UK Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill get wrong on trafficking?
  • Including human trafficking in an immigration bill brings together policy areas that should be thought about separately. Human trafficking is a matter of public protection, criminal justice and human rights. It is not an immigration matter
  • Victims of trafficking have specific rights to protection and recovery in both international and domestic law. The Government also has a duty to prevent human trafficking, to protect survivors and investigate the crime where there is a credible suspicion of human trafficking.
  • Laws around human trafficking, including child trafficking, are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. This bill proposes laws which would encroach on the Scottish Parliament’s powers
  • The bill will bring in a discriminatory two-tier system, with harsher treatment for foreign victims of trafficking. It proposes to make victims, including children, responsible for identifying themselves as victims of trafficking, imposes strict time restrictions on disclosing traumatic information and carrying penalties for disclosures not made in time
  • Part of the bill (Clause 62) excludes people from protection in the UK if they are deemed to have said they were a victim of trafficking in ‘bad faith’, or be a threat to public order. But the bill doesn’t define what ‘bad faith’ means
  • We’re also very worried that these ‘public order’ clauses are misleading. They could mean that a person forced to commit a crime by their traffickers would not be given protection. Under international law, victims of trafficking should not be punished for crimes they had no choice but to commit. This part of the bill could breach the UK’s compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights
  • It’s also really important to note that many of the bill’s plans around asylum would likely increase people’s vulnerability to trafficking
What could the consequences of this be?
  • All of these measures will reduce protections for trafficked people, both adults and children and push trafficking survivors further to the margins of society
  • We may see survivors be less able to produce evidence about their situations, which is likely to make the prosecution rate of traffickers even lower than it is now
  • This bill will result in less safety for survivors, more exploitation and organised crime. The bill could hardly have been better drafted by traffickers and organised crime groups
  • This bill will cause a great deal of difficulty for Scotland’s Guardianship service, which advocates for unaccompanied children. Guardians will have to invest more time in documenting difficulties that young people have in disclosing extremely traumatic information. They will have to spend more time writing letters challenging Home Office decisions to deny protection, and explain these decisions to distressed children
What could be done to improve the situation?
At a UK Government level
  • The UK government could scrap its cruel
  • In the event that the UK Govt doesn’t scrap the bill, it could at least recognise that human trafficking provisions do not belong in an immigration Bill – a consistent position that anti-trafficking organisations across the UK have taken
At a Scottish Government level
  • Section 9 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 gives Scottish Ministers powers to create a system for identifying victims of trafficking to provide them with support and assistance. But, this power has not been used and Scotland has relied on the system instituted by the UK Government, the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). The NRM has many flaws, not least very slow decision-making but this Bill will make the system even worse
  • The discriminatory system outlined in the Bill is likely to be subject to many legal challenges. Continuing to rely on the UK NRM system would represent a legal liability for Scotland and have an impact on our already busy court system
  • We are calling on Scottish Ministers to institute a fully human rights compliant system for identifying and protecting victims of trafficking identified in Scotland, using its regulations power under Section 9 as cited. This should be led by experts in human rights and safeguarding and those with child protection expertise
  • We urge Scottish Ministers to include these regulations in the Programme for Government, or ideally at an earlier point
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Claire Thomson
Author: Claire Thomson