In recent years, the amount of modern slavery claims being made by asylum seekers has risen substantially. In 2022, claims reached a high of 17,000 of which just a quarter were for sole UK nationals.
Earlier this year, we published exclusive data linking the significant increase in modern slavery claims to the Channel crisis. This data had such an impact, that just a few weeks later the Immigration Minister, Robert Jenrick MP, promised to begin publishing this information regularly in the wake of our research.
Now that the Home Office has become more transparent regarding this topic, what do they have to say?
Interestingly, the Home Office emphasises those illegal arrivals who were detained and went on to be referred to as a potential modern slavery victim.* Here it notes that while in 2019 only six per cent of detainees involved a referral, this jumped to over half in 2020 and nearly three quarters in 2021 before dropping slightly to 65 per cent in 2022. According to the Home Office, barely any of those arrivals who were not detained for return were referred as potential modern slaves within three months of arrival.
This is important because it makes clear that very few people arriving were going on to make modern slavery claims unless detained and slated for removal (or held while their asylum claim was ongoing).
Of those who were detained, they were typically slated for return to another country/their home country, relocation to Rwanda, detained for potential return if their asylum claim failed or were to be deported as foreign national offenders.
In other words, it is largely those whose return to another country has already been decided who are, in the light of that fact, suddenly claiming to be a victim of modern slavery.
In our research, which included data only up to June 2022, we highlighted that over half of small boat modern slavery claimants were Albanian. In this latest release, the government has disclosed that from 2021 to September 2022, 70 per cent of all Albanians arriving were making modern slavery claims.
Incredibly, the report goes on to state that 92 per cent of modern slavery claims were signed off and 99.5 per cent of all people making such claims were eventually released from detention. While some of these claims will have been genuine, as the former Immigration Minister Chris Philp MP made clear when he brought attention to this issue, the threshold of proof for a successful claim has become ‘absurdly low’. This implies that a major proportion of successful claims should not have been accepted in the first place.
What is particularly absurd, however, is just how long it has taken for the fraudulent abuse of the modern slavery system to emerge and be stopped. This report makes clear that modern slavery system abuse has long been a feature of the Channel crisis, yet only since August have government figures shown any sign of sorting it out.
Now that they are doing so, via the Prime Minister’s new Illegal Immigration Bill, the government certainly deserves credit for tightening up the system. Nevertheless, the question remains, did the Home Office have any idea until recently that the system was being abused so flagrantly? Could this problem have been sorted sooner? These are questions we may never learn the answers to, but that they need asking is a worrying sign of other forms of abuse that may have long gone ignored.
*In technical terms, no-one can directly go to the National Referral Mechanism and claim to be a modern slave, they have to be referred by registered public bodies or certain charities hence why ‘claims’ is not used in official parlance.