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How We are Fighting for the Protection and Safeguarding of Survivors of Trafficking during Covid-19

Rachel Witkin

The Helen Bamber Foundation has submitted a short report to the UK Home Office recommending that urgent action is taken to protect and safeguard survivors of Modern Slavery as a result of the Covid-19 Public Health crisis. The report is widely supported by NGOs, academics and legal representatives across the UK with 56 co-signatories.

There is no foreseeable end to the current pandemic crisis. To ensure the ongoing protection, safety and health of survivors of modern slavery during the Covid-19 public health crisis and through the gradual emergence from it, we are calling for a coherent Government strategy to be published together with the creation of a ‘Modern Slavery Covid-Crisis Committee’ comprising clinical and anti-trafficking experts who can provide guidance on implementation of the strategy and recommended actions for urgent  procedural measures.  


The risks faced by survivors of Modern Slavery – which are a serious concern at any time – are compounded by the Covid-19 public health crisis, which means that they are particularly vulnerable. Isolation, poverty and poor housing conditions, underlying health conditions, lack of access to appropriate care and essential services and experiences of marginalisation all contribute to survivors being unable to manage this crisis and to defend themselves effectively against Covid-19. Many survivors live in fear of threats and reprisals from traffickers and can face the risks of re-trafficking and other crimes being committed against them, particularly at times of crisis or increased vulnerability.

This particularly applies to survivors of Modern Slavery who have insecure immigration status (those who are without leave to remain in the UK at all, or have been granted short terms of leave to remain (1 year or less). Certainty of secure immigration status enables survivors to regain the confidence they need to remain safe, to avoid further trafficking risks, to pursue social reintegration in employment, education and the community, and to contribute positively to society.

Summary of recommendations

The urgent priority for survivors of modern slavery who lack secure immigration status in the UK is to prevent their situation remaining precarious and becoming increasingly dangerous. In our report we explain the Government can support the protection, safety and health of survivors by:

  • Publishing a strategy on the protection of survivors of Modern Slavery throughout the Covid-19 public health crisis.
  • Setting up a Modern Slavery Covid-19 Crisis Committee comprising clinical and anti-trafficking experts to oversee implementation and provide guidance throughout the crisis.
  • Providing survivors of Modern Slavery with the certainty of appropriate terms of leave to remain. This requires a minimum of 3 years leave for all those with a positive NRM Conclusive Grounds decision and 30 months leave for all those who have pending immigration and identification claims on human rights/discretionary leave to remain grounds, with longer periods of leave (such as five years of Humanitarian Protection) being granted where appropriate.
  • Expediting all positive NRM or asylum decisions and issuing these with urgency.
  • Holding off on issuing NRM or asylum decisions which decision-makers are ‘minded to refuse’ throughout the pandemic. Many initial negative decisions are reconsidered or appealed successfully. Negative decisions should not usually be issued to survivors throughout the Covid-19 public health crisis.
  • Providing access to safe and appropriate housing. In addition to providing as many safe-house spaces as possible while observing Covid-19 safety measures (social isolation and distancing), the UK Government must urgently support National Referral Mechanism victim care contract providers by exploring additional housing options which are appropriately managed and are safe for survivors.
  • Increasing the NRM Victim Care Fund specifically so that survivors of Modern Slavery can have access to the internet. It is essential for survivors to have ongoing access to vital information and services, all of which are delivered remotely and online during this crisis, including (but not limited to): GP services, mental health support, NRM outreach support, legal services and NGO specialist support.

“Urgent action is required to make sure that during this crisis no survivor of Modern Slavery is re-victimised. Fears about immigration status is one of the key concerns survivors we work with tell us about when we speak to them. Granting 3 years leave to remain will mean that all survivors can be confident about their right to live safely in the UK throughout this crisis and therefore remain safe and avoid further trafficking risks.” 

Kerry Smith, Chief Executive Officer of the Helen Bamber Foundation