Human trafficking and slavery

We speak up for and with trafficking survivors

Most survivors of trafficking do not have enough support. This leaves them at risk of further exploitation and being re-trafficked.

What support is available to people who have been trafficked?

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is the framework through which people are formally identified by the UK government as survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery.

If it is decided that a person has likely been trafficked, a minimum 45-day ‘rest and recovery period’ begins, during which they can access accommodation, financial and medical support.

This assistance continues until the authorities decide conclusively whether or not a person has been trafficked.

Who is affected?

In 2020, over 10,000 people were referred to the UK’s NRM. However, it is commonly accepted that this does not represent the actual figure for people exploited in the UK, which is likely to be much higher.

Of those referred in 2020, 63 per cent were exploited in the UK. Approximately half were adults and half were children.

What's wrong?

Immediate support

Survivors of human trafficking and exploitation need urgent care and support immediately after leaving exploitation. But there are currently limited options available.

Our recent report, First Steps to Safety? The role of reception centres in supporting people out of exploitation, focuses on the experiences of people removed from exploitation, and asks whether they are able to get the immediate advice and support they need.

As we made clear in evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into Modern Slavery (PDF), the British Red Cross is concerned that due to a lack of legal and other support, survivors of trafficking are often unable to make informed decisions as to whether to enter the NRM. 

In 2017, the government committed to introducing 'places of safety' that would give people leaving exploitation at least three days of immediate accommodation and support. To date, 'places of safety' have not been introduced, leaving people without immediate support options. In anticipation of 'places of safety', the British Red Cross, along with colleagues in the sector, have developed principles that underpin early support provision for survivors of trafficking (PDF). These standards place informed consent at the core of best practice. 

Long-term support

For most people who receive a decision through the NRM, support ends shortly after that.  Being recognised as a survivor of trafficking does not now come with any long-term support, meaning many survivors are left facing homelessness, destitution and risks of re-trafficking.

For most people whose cases have been determined, support ends once they exit the NRM.

Our report, Hope For the Future: Support for survivors of trafficking after the National Referral Mechanism, builds on initial findings from our STEP project, co-funded by European Commission’s asylum migration and integration fund (AMIF), which provides long-term support to survivors of trafficking alongside partner organisations Ashiana and Hestia.

The report found that while support ends at this time, the need for it, especially for those with irregular immigration status, continues. This cliff-edge for support makes those we help vulnerable to homelessness, exploitation and re-trafficking. 

The NRM and asylum process

Anyone can become a victim of trafficking and many factors can make people more vulnerable to it. However, migrants and people seeking asylum are particularly in danger of being trafficked, or trafficking may even be a central element of their migration journey.  

Our frontline teams see first-hand how destitution and homelessness experienced by refugees, people seeking asylum and migrants can leave people vulnerable to exploitation. They also recognise that data-sharing by public services for the purposes of immigration enforcement deters people from reporting abuse and accessing life-saving services. 

Many people who have been trafficked will also be in the asylum system, and some of them will also be in the NRM. Through our TRACKS project (PDF), we found that there is not enough attention on the specific issues faced by people in both situations.

In response we have developed a TRACKS toolbox (PDF) to support people in the sector to understand and respond to the specific needs of people seeking asylum who have experienced human trafficking and exploitation.