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Home Office Agrees to Release Victims of Trafficking Into Safe Accommodation

Lawyers and campaigners working to support victims of trafficking and modern slavery have welcomed a change to Home Office guidance concerning safe accommodation following a legal challenge.

Detention Action, Bail for Immigration Detainees (BiD), Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group and human rights lawyers at law firm Leigh Day say the move will help victims of trafficking who have been made to wear an electronic tag to move out of detention centres and into safe accommodation. It will be an important step to rebuilding their lives following the trauma of being trafficked into modern slavery.

The legal challenge to Home Office accommodation policy for people in immigration detention centres was brought by a foreign national who was kept at an Immigration Removal Centre following a police raid on a cannabis farm which resulted in his criminal conviction.

While he was awaiting the outcome of his asylum claim, the claimant, who we have called “Son”, was recognised by the Home Office as a possible victim of trafficking and modern slavery (VOT/MS). As such, following an agreement that he could be released from detention, he should have been eligible for release into safe accommodation, including  specialist “safehouse” accommodation, which is designed to limit the risk of victims of trafficking being re-trafficked.

Currently such accommodation for people who have received a Positive Reasonable Grounds Decision (RDG) is provided by the Salvation Army which has a Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract with the Home Office.

However, as a result of a policy to prevent individuals with a RGD and electronic GPS tags from entering safehouse accommodation, Son’s progress stalled and he was only released from detention, over three months later, following urgent judicial review proceedings being issued.  He had been detained for over eight months in total. It is understood that there were many others in his position, whose detainment may have been unnecessarily delayed.

Son also was unable to access a range of other forms of support he was eligible for that were not available in detention, including psychological support.

The Home Office accepts in its policies that individuals with RGD are generally not suitable for detention, are likely to suffer harm in detention, and can only be detained in limited circumstances.

Son’s mental health deteriorated, and he was only able to sleep a few hours a night, became isolated and suffered extreme fearfulness in detention (to the extent that he developed urinary incontinence).

Faced with an indeterminate wait to be provided with Section 95 accommodation, provided to people who have made a claim for asylum, Son opted to legally challenge the Home Office policy concerning the provision of accommodation to victims of trafficking subjected to electronic tags. He applied for judicial review and was supported in his claim by Detention Action, Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group and BiD.

“Son” was represented by Leigh Day human rights solicitor, John Crowley.

Following legal proceedings being issued, the Home Office changed its Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract so that under its new terms the Salvation Army was required to accommodate RDG people released on bail and wearing an electronic tag where there is an accepted risk of them being re-trafficked or where no other accommodation is available.

Detention Action and BiD have claimed the development as a victory as it means victims of trafficking should no longer be left in detention in circumstances where their release has been agreed by the Home Office or ordered by a judge. They should now be able to access the support they are entitled to and to be allocated accommodation which is suited to their recovery needs.

Leigh Day solicitor John Crowley said:

“It is vital that the UK government takes its duties towards victims of trafficking seriously and ensures they are able to access the forms of support they are entitled to. Unfortunately, it was necessary for my client to bring a legal challenge simply to access this support. We are pleased that victims of trafficking like my client should no longer be left in detention and can instead access safe accommodation. “ 

James Wilson, Director of Detention Action said:

“Tagging is a demeaning and invasive practice that often prevents people from accessing the resources they need, like housing. We’re glad to hear of the ruling in this case but know that the Home Office guidance leaves much to be desired. This Government should never prevent people who have experienced Modern Slavery and human trafficking from receiving the support they need. Any policy that results in such individuals being detained should be reconsidered and rewritten.”

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