Modern slavery laws are to be tightened so that alleged victims can only make a claim once under plans drawn up by Priti Patel for her successor.
The Home Secretary has drafted an overhaul of Theresa May’s Modern Slavery Act of 2015 aimed at preventing the “merry-go-round” of late and last-minute trafficking claims that have prevented the deportation of illegal migrants and foreign criminals.
She has proposed a package of measures that would also stop Albanians, who account for the biggest number of claims from exploiting modern slavery laws, from claiming they are victims of “blood feuds” or trafficking by criminals for whom they work.
It would also include measures to restrict claims unless they were directly linked to the UK as part of a new system aimed at ensuring the referral mechanism for claims is “about the recovery of victims rather than an open immigration route”, a government source said.
2,000 migrants cross the Channel
Saturday and Sunday saw an estimated 2,000 migrants cross the Channel, bringing the total this year to more than 27,000, double last year’s rate. One boat made it to the beach around Folkestone and some of those on board were seen running off.
Data shows that a record 4,171 potential victims of modern slavery were referred to the Home Office in the second quarter of 2022, up 10 per cent on the last quarter and a 34 per cent rise in a year. Of these, 1,130 – or 24 per cent – were Albanians.
Under the Act’s National Referral Mechanism police, local councils, NGOs and specific government agencies are required to refer victims to Home Office experts who assess whether their cases merit support including accommodation, subsistence, legal aid and counselling.
In August Chris Philp, the immigration minister, revealed modern slavery claims were “routinely” made by Channel migrants, despite them having told officers on arrival that they were not slavery victims, adding: “The claim usually came shortly after meeting an immigration lawyer.”
Deportation flights have also been halted at the last minute by foreign criminals or illegal migrants making late submissions of evidence claiming to be victims of modern slavery.
Ms Patel is proposing a similar “one-stop-shop” approach to asylum claims where alleged victims of modern slavery would have to present all their evidence within a fixed time period at the beginning.
“We want to reduce the credibility of late evidence, for example ‘when you remember on the day of deportation you’re a victim. We want to end the merry-go-round of claims,” said a government source.
The numbers allowed to stay as a result of modern slavery claims has risen from 3,000 in 2015 to 16,000 this year, of which 90 per cent were approved because of what ministers say are “lax” rules that require very little hard evidence.
‘A very low bar for claims’
The review by Ms Patel would raise the threshold for approval. “We are looking at reducing the reasonable grounds threshold because it is a very low bar for claims,” said the source.
“We are seeing at the moment a lot of Albanians involved in blood feuds claiming they are victims of modern slavery and coming over here.”
The review would also limit claims so that they would have to be directly linked to being a victim of slavery in the UK or a victim of trafficking from the UK. The referral mechanism will be streamlined to make the processing of claims quicker and more efficient.
“Similar to asylum, we are trying to stop claims being chosen to be made here where they could have claimed in other countries which are compliant with the European Convention on Trafficking and which have good protections for genuine modern slavery victims,” said the source.
There is speculation that Ms Patel will be replaced by Suella Braverman, the Attorney General, as Home Secretary.
A source said: “This is what needs to be done regardless of who is Home Secretary. This is about ensuring people who have no right to remain in the UK are removed.”