Britain’s latest anti-migration legislation has led to fewer asylum approvals, parliamentary inquiry hears

Birmingham, UK

A migration law that came into force last year has led to more negative grounds for asylum claims by irregular arrivals, a UK parliamentary committee heard on Wednesday.

Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights met to discuss the human rights of asylum seekers in the UK and the implications of the Nationality and Borders Act, passed in the Chamber in April 2022. Part 5 of the Bill, which made changes to the Modern Slavery Act and associated policies, came into effect on January 30, 2023.

Robyn Phillips, Chief of Operations for the Human Trafficking Foundation, said during the meeting that between 1 January 2018 and 31 December 2022, 83,236 people arrived in the UK on small boats.

“Only 7% were identified as potential victims of modern slavery, and in fact it was only 6% in calendar year 2022,” she said, adding that 85% of the reprimands were recognized as genuine claims by the Home Office.

Major Kathy Betteridge, director of anti-trafficking and modern slavery at The Salvation Army, said she had no new data on arrivals for the period beginning when Part 5 of the law goes into effect. Betteridge stressed that her organization is a first responder to those arriving and said they regularly receive referrals.

“The numbers are still coming through, but negative reason decisions have increased and that is also very much related to the subjective evidence required in the citizenship and border law.”

Betteridge said she is aware that it can be difficult for victims to collect or present evidence.

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“We asked some of our survivors that we work with who are now in our ministry what it would have meant to them if they had to provide evidence and they said it would have been very traumatic would have triggered further trauma because they haven’t kept anything and they don’t have evidence that lends authority, the evidence that they have to present.”

Philips agreed, giving examples of people concerned about exposing traffickers. She went on to say that a quarter of traffickers are British nationals and that human smuggling should not be equated with human trafficking, which involves exploitation and threats to one’s life.

Kate Elsayed-Ali, policy manager at the Anti-Trafficking and Labor Exploitation Unit (ATLEU), said it was important to remember that many victims and survivors of human trafficking apply for asylum because of their trafficking situation and that they have a such would experience real threat if they were sent back to their home countries.

According to Elsayed-Ali, many irregular arrivals do not even know they are victims of modern slavery or human trafficking, which gives them the right to live in the UK. She said the citizenship and border law added complexity to the whole process and risked denying survivors’ claims.

When asked how one distinguishes an ordinary asylum seeker from someone who is a victim of human trafficking and modern slavery, Betteridge said that as a first responder upon the person’s arrival in the country, her organization would hear the person’s story in detail to see whether they may be a victim.

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“With their permission, this will then be processed through the National Referral Mechanism. The decision-making is done by the competent authority, and after the decision-making, they decide whether the person has negative or positive reasons,” she said, adding that the process takes up to 535 days on average.

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