Early support for survivors of trafficking

First steps to safety?

Overview of the report

Survivors of human trafficking and exploitation need immediate care and support, but there are currently limited options available.

Across the UK, the British Red Cross provides emergency support at temporary reception centres, set up for people recovered during police operations to disrupt exploitation and human trafficking.

Our new 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.

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Key findings

Our research shows that, while reception centres did offer people immediate respite, the time pressure, conflicting priorities, and limited support options for survivors meant that they did not offer people routes to safety.

  • Survivors of trafficking, slavery and exploitation were often afraid of both the people exploiting them and the authorities. Issues of fear and trust were the biggest barriers stopping people taking up the help that was on offer.
  • People’s safety and protection was not always the focus of the reception centres observed. The risks of retribution from traffickers, the threat of immigration enforcement and the potential for people to be less trusting of the authorities when they left were evident. Most worryingly, most people taken to a reception centre during the research either returned to their previous situation or were arrested by officers from Immigration Enforcement.
  • The lack of certainty about onward support could leave people potentially more vulnerable than when they arrived. None of the people who attended the reception centres agreed to enter the National Referral Mechanism, the UK government’s system for determining whether it believes a person is a survivor of trafficking and providing support for survivors. And if people did not agree to enter the NRM, there were few other options offered.
  • People need time, space and support before they make significant decisions about their future. People leaving situations of exploitation are often asked to make decisions in a short-space of time, without access to legal advice or any certainty of the support they will receive after the National Referral Mechanism.

Our calls to decision makers

Reception centres need to focus on care and support if they are to be part of someone’s first steps to safety. To successfully offer a route to safety there must be more, and better options for survivors. Therefore, we propose anti-trafficking reception centres should be:

1. Focused on protection:

  • The primary purpose of a reception centre should be to safely remove an individual from a situation of exploitation, to assess the risks they face and their immediate needs, and work with the person to determine suitable next steps towards protection. 
  • The Home Office should introduce Places of Safety, providing at least three days of time, space and support for survivors to make informed decisions about their future. 
  • The Ministry of Justice should enable access to legal advice funded by legal aid for individuals prior to entering the National Referral Mechanism.

2. Separate from immigration enforcement:

  • There should be a clear distinction between a police action on slavery, trafficking and exploitation grounds and one which takes place for enforcing immigration rules.
  • The Home Office and the National Crime Agency should ensure that immigration enforcement is not present at anti-trafficking reception centres.
  • Information gathered by agencies in reception centres should not be shared with the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes. 

3. Guided by minimum standards:

  • Guidance produced for police, Local Authorities, the voluntary and community sector and other organisations should ensure a minimum level of practice when reception centres are delivered.  

4. Properly resourced:

  • The Home Office should ensure that police forces and Local Authorities receive adequate funding to be able to meet the minimum standards.

5. A first step to safety: