Britain has sent home or aided the return of dozens of slaves to trafficking hotspots including Albania, Nigeria and Vietnam in recent years, raising concerns this put people at risk of being re-trafficked due to a lack of support in their home countries.
The government subjected 36 victims to “enforced returns” between 2014 and 2018, according to Home Office (interior ministry) data obtained exclusively by the Thomson Reuters Foundation under Britain’s Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
Another 41 ex-slaves were found to have undergone “voluntary returns” in this period although activists said they likely saw no other choice without the right to remain in Britain.
Anti-slavery charities said these numbers could be just the tip of the iceberg as it did not include people returned before their case was decided or after a claim was denied, or anyone exploited who did not come forward due to fear of reprisals.
“These figures are obviously deeply concerning … we can’t just be returning people to their exploiters,” said Kate Roberts, UK and Europe Manager for Anti-Slavery International.
The full picture of how Britain handles people freed from modern slavery is unclear as authorities do not publish data on how many survivors have applied for asylum or how many are allowed to remain or sent home.
But several charities said Britain should monitor and ensure long-term support – from community reintegration to training and jobs – for former slaves returned to high-risk nations to reduce the risk of them falling prey once more to human traffickers.
“Whatever support exists is piecemeal, there needs to be a large-scale safe returns programme,” Roberts added. “Visits must be done in country to check people will be safe, with follow-ups and measures to ensure they won’t be at risk of further abuse.” Read more