The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) has released new statistics which illustrates the high number of victims of slavery that are bound up in those seeking asylum in the United Kingdom. Overall, 2022 statistics are high – beginning from the increase in small boat arrivals picked up by first responders at the UK border, to the Duty to Notify process seeing the highest number of reports ever to the Home Office (4,580) – to the highest number of potential victims of modern slavery recorded through the NRM ever (16,938), a 33% increase since the prior year. As such the highest number of slavery cases were recorded in 2022. 88% of reasonable grounds cases (17,000) and 89% of conclusive grounds cases (6,000) that were considered by the competent authorities were deemed positive. This shows that the majority of cases claimed to be slavery, are indeed slavery, and the UK Modern Slavery Act plays a critical role in international human rights justice for those seeking asylum.
Imbedded with political issues surrounding high numbers of immigrants entering the UK, fears arise around the exploitation of this system that is designed to protect victims.
According to NRM statistics, for the first year Albanian nationals were the highest number of referrals per nationality, exceeding UK nationals at 25%, mostly being child potential victims of slavery. Albanian nationals accounted for 27% of potential victims of modern slavery, mostly being adults, and many arriving via small boats to UK shores. This has given rise to backlash at the statistics with rhetoric suggesting Albanian refugees are ‘claiming to be slavery victims’ using the UK Modern Slavery Act. However, migrants also from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria arriving in small boats are usually unable to access visas, passports or conventional safe routes of immigration and are therefore highly vulnerable to the exploitation of human traffickers.
For further information, see the Home Office National Referral Mechanism and Duty to Notify statistics UK, end of year summary 2022.
The 2021 Home Office annual report on modern slavery identifies nearly 13,000 victims, as well as a shift in profile of victims and the worst kinds of threats, with labour and criminal exploitation currently the most common forms of modern slavery in the UK. 2021 indicates the highest number of victims reported to the NRM per year since it was initiated in 2009. This is a 20% increase from 2020 where 10,601 victims were identified, close in number to 2019 when 10,611 victims were identified. The number of referrals to the NRM has been steadily increasing year by year, however the rapid increase in 2021 is potentially linked to the rise in cases related to county lines drug gangs.
The increase in cases related to county lines gangs accounts for 16% of cases reported to the NRM, of which most were male victims. This targeted gender accounts for the change in common modern slavery victim profile, with 77% of victims (9,790) being male. 23% of victims (2,923) were female. Alarmingly, 43% of referrals (5,468) were minors, due to high rates of child criminal exploitation. The common demographic of victims by nationality in 2021 were majority UK citizens at 30%, followed by Albanian nationals at 20% and Vietnamese nationals at 8%. The majority of the exploitation occurred in the UK, in the form of labour abuse and criminal exploitation, for example in the illicit drug trade.
These statistics are reported from October 2020 – September 2021, in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, due to the coercive nature of modern slavery, these figures do not reflect the actual number of victims recorded. CEO of NGO Unseen UK, Andrew Wallis OBE highlights that 1 in 5 victims of modern slavery chose not to engage with the NRM in the 2021 reporting year, bringing the total number of victims up to nearly 16,000. Engagement with the NRM is vital for victims to be recognised by the state as victims of modern slavery, and have access to protection and support. This means 3190, approximately one fifth of modern slavey victims identified by frontline and border authorities under the Duty to Notify (DtN) process, are still vulnerable to re-trafficking or further exploitation in society. This trend to deny referral to the NRM is 47% higher than 2020, suggesting a rise in mistrust in authorities that prevents victims from receiving the medical, psychological care and justice they are entitled to.
For the full Home Office statistical report for 2021, see here.