Detaining Victims: Human Trafficking and the UK Immigration Detention System

In July 2019 the Labour Exploitation Advisory Group (LEAG) released a report looking at the experiences of victims of human trafficking whilst they are detained in the UK immigration detention system. The report gave particular attention to the barriers that hinder the identification of victims of human trafficking, both prior to and during detention, the impact of detention on National Referral Mechanism (NRM) decision making, and the physical and mental health of the victims who have been detained. The report concludes by setting out recommendations for improvement.

The main findings and recommendations of the report are as follows:

  1. The main barriers to victim identification are a lack of understanding by authorities as to what constitutes human trafficking and poor assessments of detainee’s vulnerability, and the language barriers faced by victims leading to a difficulty in communicating rights and reporting abuse. The recommendations to these barriers include comprehensive training for officials involved in immigration detention and the NRM gatekeepers surrounding indicators of human trafficking. Recommendations also include offering greater advice and support support to victims regarding reviews of their detention and over any decisions for them to enter the NRM.
  2. Further barriers identified during detention concern the training of immigration detention centre staff, which fails to address the identification of victims of trafficking, and a lack of transparency in data showing the number of potential victims in the detention system thus reducing the capacity for evidence based policy. Recommendations are predominately aimed at increasing the training for staff involved in immigration detention and the quarterly publication of data on potential victims of trafficking in immigration detention.
  3. Issues surrounding the NRM process were also highlighted, in particular the length of time it takes for determinations to be made, and the continued detention of potential victims with positive reasonable grounds decisions. Further issues include the increased likelihood of detainees receiving negative determinations. Proposed recommendations include reducing the focus on inconsistencies in accounts, the responsibility for referrals should not be made by the Home Office who maintain responsibility for immigration enforcement, and a strict limit imposed on the amount of time a potential victim of trafficking might be detained.
  4. Immigration detention can have a significant impact on the physical and mental health of those detained, especially victims of trafficking. Recommendations proposed include and independent review of how detention impacts victims of human trafficking and removing the requirement for victims to report report to the Home Office while awaiting a conclusive grounds decision.


The above lists some of the main findings and proposed recommendations outlined in the report. More information on each of these findings can be found in the full report which can be accessed here.

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