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This is what happens to women who escape sex trafficking in the UK

The application process victims of modern slavery have to go through to prove their circumstances and find out if they can remain in the country is not easy. Jennifer Edwards talks us through the process

Female shadow on a Danish farm wall.

Thousands of victims of modern slavery are trafficked to the UK every year, forced into unpaid work or sexually exploited. Those who escape are referred to the National Referral Mechanism [NRM] – the application process victims have to go through to prove their circumstances and find out if they can remain in the country. Given the traumatic experiences many have been through, the system should be as straightforward as possible – but that is not always the case, explains Jennifer Edwards who works for a charity that supports asylum seekers.

I am one year older than Elira*. We are both the kind of women who wear hair bobbles around our wrists and dye our naturally mousy hair blonde.

I know Elira from my day job supporting women who are seeking asylum in the UK. A number of these women have been trafficked from Albania predominantly for sexual exploitation and many have children as a result.

My role is to practically and emotionally support these women through the asylum process and the National Referral Mechanism. The NRM is a system employed by the Home Office to decide who they believe has and hasn’t been trafficked, this can then inform people’s asylum decisions.

If you are identified as potentially being trafficked you are referred into the NRM by a selected first responder who then refers to the competent authority, this should all be done with your consent. If you are also claiming asylum the competent authority and decision maker is the Home Office. Within five days you should receive a ‘reasonable grounds decision’ about whether there is enough reason to believe you have been trafficked.

In reality these timescales are rarely adhered to and the consistency and quality of support seems to vary drastically

If positive you enter the ‘recovery and reflection period’ which should last for 45 days. During this time you receive support which varies depending on your situation. Once you get your ‘conclusive decision’ this support stops. You may be granted up to one year residency, continue to wait for your asylum decision or just get a piece of paper confirming that you have been trafficked.

In reality these timescales are rarely adhered to and the consistency and quality of support seems to vary drastically.

The world of immigration enforcement is so complex and is forever changing. On a daily basis I witness how people are systematically broken down by this ‘hostile environment’, aiming is to make the UK as unwelcoming as possible to deter others from seeking asylum in the future.

Elira has been waiting over two years for a decision, waiting for an NRM decision can severely delay your asylum claim. During that time she hasn’t been allowed to work, lives in no choice shared accommodation and receives £78.50 a week for herself and Fatmira. The waiting is what takes from these women.

  • In 2017, 5145 potential victims were referred to the National Referral Mechanism
  • This was an increase of 35 per cent on the 2016 figure
  • Potential victims came from 116 different nationalities

Statistics from the National Crime Agency

*Name has been changed to protect identity.

Find out more at rightsofwomen.org.uk, stopthetraffik.org

Image: iStock/Leminuit

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