At risk: exploitation and the UK asylum system

Highlighting exploitation, and the risks of exploitation, in the UK asylum system. A report by the British Red Cross and the UNHCR.

The British Red Cross and UNHCR report, At risk: exploitation and the UK asylum systemfinds that people seeking asylum in the UK are at risk of exploitation and have been exploited in the UK.

When people are forced to flee, they leave behind more than their homes. They lose their community support networks and become socially and culturally isolated. They can no longer access basic resources and work opportunities and ways to support themselves and their families.

Depending on where they are seeking safety, they may not have a secure immigration status and the safety that can bring. These and other factors leave refugees and people seeking asylum at serious risk of exploitation and human trafficking.

Risks of exploitation and human trafficking increase in times of conflict and displacement. But they can also be a dangerous and harmful reality for refugees and asylum-seekers, after arrival in the UK.

Key findings

People seeking asylum in the UK are at risk of exploitation and have been exploited in the UK.

People seeking asylum in the UK have felt unsafe, unable to disclose experiences of human trafficking and have been forced into domestic servitude, sexual and labour exploitation and forced criminality.

Opportunities to identify and address risks are frequently missed throughout the asylum system.

This is due to over-reliance on people self-identifying as victims of human trafficking and a lack of effective vulnerability screening at all stages of the asylum process.

Government policies and practices can also drive risks of exploitation.

This includes requirements for potential victims of modern slavery to report to immigration enforcement in person at the same time and place, failure to provide safe-house accommodation or policies that increase risks of destitution and homelessness.

Our recommendations

People seeking protection in the UK should be safe from further harm. Rather than a focus solely on compliance, policies and practices must keep people safe.

The Home Office should:

1. Screen for vulnerabilities: Improve vulnerability screening at all stages of the asylum system, including in the asylum support assessment and allocation process. The UNHCR/IDC Vulnerability Screening Tool (VST) provides a framework for this and could be adapted to the UK context.

2. Prioritise safety over enforcement: Ensure that the Home Office responds to indications that an asylum-seeker is missing as a safeguarding concern rather than an immigration compliance and enforcement issue.

3. Provide safe accommodation: Ensure risk and needs assessments under Modern Slavery Statutory Guidance are carried out to inform appropriate onward support, and do not automatically place victims of modern slavery in asylum support accommodation.

4. Make efficient decisions: Address delays in both National Referral Mechanism and asylum decision-making, through improving efficiency and reducing the backlogs.

5. Support people to move forward: Review the support offered to newly recognised refugees under the AIRE contract with respect to outcomes achieved, such as safe transitions to alternative financial support, employment and accommodation and publish the results of this evaluation.