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Support Without Recovery: the UK anti-trafficking response

September 30, 2016

International law requires Governments to support and protect victims of human trafficking. In the UK 45 days’ support is provided whilst a decision is made on whether someone is recognized as having been trafficked. In practice, victims often face a long wait with little or no information about their case. Soon after a decision is made, they are left without support and alone.

FLEX research into identification and support of victims of human trafficking in the UK has revealed the critical need for better information and support for potential victims of trafficking who enter the UK National Referral Mechanism – the UK’s official framework for identifying and supporting victims of trafficking. Our short film, Support Without Recovery: the UK anti-trafficking response, gives an insight into the fear and uncertainty faced by those who have to wait for months – sometimes years – to be recognized as victims of trafficking, with little or no support to help them move on with their lives.

Long waiting periods and lack of information leaves victims in a state of insecurity, anxious and uncertain about what their future will hold. ‘I don’t have any idea what is going on,’ says Oneka, who is waiting for a date for her interview with the Home Office, in which she will have to demonstrate that she is a victim of trafficking. Her official 45-day ‘reflection and recovery’ period ended over a month ago, but there is no sign of a decision. In the meantime, Oneka has been moved several times with no say over where she goes. Though unsettling for her, Oneka worries more about the impact on her children. ‘My daughter asks me questions every time … If we are going to move again, I might need to change her school. It’s going to break her heart.’

Leaving trafficked persons in limbo whilst a decision is made about their future is disempowering and hinders the recovery process. The UK Home Office should provide more consistent engagement whilst considering cases, as information is key to enable victims to feel that they are regaining control over their lives.

Sophie has had to wait for 18 months to find out what will happen to her. She has been kept in the dark about the progress of her case and feels powerless: ‘You are just at home, waiting … your future is in the hands of someone else.’ Even if the decision is positive, the abrupt termination of support following any decision hangs heavily over Sophie. If she is recognized as a victim of trafficking she will have 14 days to leave her accommodation; if not, she will only have 48hrs to find somewhere else to live. Although extensions to support are possible in principle, they are difficult to obtain in practice. ‘It’s like you start from zero,’ she says. ‘They shouldn’t just cut you off.’

Sophie’s concern about being cut off from support once her case is decided is a harsh reality for many. Finding safe housing and employment can be extremely difficult for those who, having been trafficked and exploited, are left with nothing. Being forced to exit services with nowhere to go and no employment poses a very real risk of destitution and even re-trafficking. It is therefore vital that trafficked persons are provided access to housing and benefits once a decision is made, in order to prevent them from ending up homeless and destitute.

Support for victims of trafficking should be empowering and should address both immediate and long-term needs of victims and their families. In order to move on from their trafficking situation and avoid further exploitation, victims require sustainable support, including long-term engagement in order to facilitate integration in to life in the UK. Without support that helps recovery, the UK will continue to fail victims of trafficking like Sophie and Oneka.

This blog reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.