Lord McColl, one time PPS to Prime Minister John Major, has been a Conservative Peer since 1989 and is sponsor of the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill.
This week I am in Hong Kong, where I have been afforded the great honour of giving the key note speech to an international conference on Combating Human Trafficking at the invitation of members of the Special Administrative Region’s Legislative Council.
One of the central themes that I will be exploring is the need for greater international cooperation in tackling this terrible crime.
The UK is a country that is often a destination and place of exploitation for victims from around the world. If we are to bring an end to human trafficking we need to work with partners in the countries that victims come from and those countries they travel through on their way to our shores.
We need to work together to identify and address the factors that can make people vulnerable to deception or threats by traffickers through education, alleviating poverty, and creating employment that will give people alternative opportunities within their own community. We also need to develop practical policing cooperation so that we can trace and prosecute criminal gangs who operate across borders.
The Prime Minister has shown great leadership in building global consensus in tackling modern slavery, and I was heartened by the announcements of new partnership and financial support from the Home Office and DFID made during the Commonwealth Summit last week. This package will support governments in Commonwealth countries to develop their expertise in identifying and tackling child labour, and strengthening their laws and criminal justice systems in the fight against human trafficking.
The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has also done excellent work in beginning to develop partnerships overseas and we need to see those efforts spread out in practical collaboration particularly for law enforcement officers on the frontline.
However, there is one aspect of development and cooperation – which I will emphasize during my speech – that is still in need of further attention. It is the question of how we help victims to recover from their exploitation and rebuild their lives in safety and freedom.
At present the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) in the UK offers a limited period of support when a person is first identified as a possible victim. But at the end of the NRM process too many victims find themselves in limbo, homeless or destitute, without a clear immigration status, unable to access other support in the UK, and afraid of what will happen to them if they return home.
Right now, we do not know what happens to individuals who return to their country of origin from the UK because there is no long-term monitoring system, but a 2010 report from the International Organisation of Migration reported that “trafficked persons, on return to their countries of origin, are often met by similar economic and social situations which made them vulnerable to trafficking in the first instance.” The IOM research also found that “victims of trafficking are frequently re-trafficked within two years or less of having exited a trafficking situation.”
Home Office practice and guidance expects most victims to return to their home country, but does not put in place any risk assessment, support or strategies to protect them against the circumstances that led to them being trafficked and exploited in the first place.
We need to take action on two levels: at home and abroad. We need to increase cooperation and partnership – including financial support – with countries that victims are returning to, so that they are able to offer returning victims a stable environment, psychological and social support, educational and employment opportunities, and establish relationships of trust with local law enforcement.
The Government has made a start by establishing links with a charity in Romania, but we need to go much further and reach many more countries so that we can be sure that we protect all victims from re-trafficking when they return home.
But it is not just the responsibility of victims’ home countries. Here in the UK we still have a long way to go in order to offer victims found in our communities a real chance of recovery. The Government has offered to provide victims in England and Wales with an extra 45 days of support as they prepare to leave safe house accommodation, which is a move in the right direction. But often 45 days is simply not enough time for the necessary building blocks to be put in place so a victim can go on to lead a safe and fulfilling life, especially when it comes to preparing victims for a return to their home country.
Front line charities working with victims day in, day out, say that most need at least a year of stability and support after the initial reflection and recovery period is over. This was also the conclusion of the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s Report on Victims of Modern Slavery. Without a secure future including safe accommodation, money for food and access to other services and support, victims are at serious risk of re-trafficking here in the UK.
My Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill will offer victims a 12 month rehabilitation period of secure status in the UK, with support to begin their recovery and prepare for life after slavery. Many victims of modern slavery have suffered appalling abuses in our country and so it is quite wrong that responsibility to care for them should stop a matter of days after the authorities formally acknowledge someone has been a victim of modern slavery.
Providing victims the option of up to 12 months of support isn’t just the right thing to do for individual victims, it will also help achieve the Government’s aims in tackling this terrible crime. Giving victims a stable and secure future means more of them will feel able to provide evidence in court, increasing the chances of the successful conviction of traffickers very significantly. It also makes it much less likely that victims will be re-trafficked and need to re-enter our support systems–with all the attendant expenses for the state.
I very much hope that the Government will see in this Bill – now awaiting its Third Reading in the Lords – an opportunity to give expression to compassionate Conservativism at its very best and give it their full support.