page icon


Urgent Call for the UK Government to Protect and Safeguard Survivors of Modern Slavery

Rachel Witkin

The Helen Bamber Foundation has submitted a short report to the UK Home Office recommending that urgent action is taken to protect and safeguard survivors of Modern Slavery as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The report is widely supported by NGOs, academics and legal representatives across the UK with 56 co-signatories.

There is no foreseeable end to the current pandemic crisis. To ensure the ongoing protection, safety and health of survivors of modern slavery during the Covid-19 public health crisis and through the gradual emergence from it, we are calling for a coherent Government strategy to be published together with the creation of a ‘Modern Slavery Covid-Crisis Committee’ comprising clinical and anti-trafficking experts who can provide guidance on implementation of the strategy and recommended actions for urgent procedural measures.

Executive Summary

In any public health crisis, thorough preparation and foresight for each stage is key.

All countries in the world are tasked with addressing the disaster of the Covid-19 pandemic. There will be a period of immediate crisis, an indefinite period in which the crisis continues and then gradual, phased emergence from it. In some ways this echoes the situation for survivors of modern slavery after leaving the direct control of traffickers. Over years of delivering an integrated model of care in accordance with survivors’ individual needs, we have found that a 3- stage process (stabilisation, trauma-focused therapy, gradual reintegration) is required for their sustained recovery from trauma and the ability to begin to rebuild their lives.

The risks faced by survivors of Modern Slavery – which are a serious concern at any time – are compounded by the Covid-19 public health crisis. This particularly applies to those who have insecure immigration status, who are without leave to remain in the UK or have been granted short terms of leave to remain (1 year or less). Isolation, poverty and poor housing conditions, underlying health conditions, lack of access to appropriate care and essential services and experiences of marginalisation all contribute to survivors being unable to manage this crisis and to defend themselves effectively against Covid-19. Many survivors live in fear of threats and reprisals from traffickers and can face the risks of re-trafficking and other crimes being committed against them, particularly at times of crisis or increased vulnerability.

In our experience - and those of our partners in the anti-trafficking sector - even in normal times it takes at least 3 years for survivors to stabilise, access services, sustain recovery and reintegrate. The certainty of secure immigration status enables survivors to regain the confidence they need to remain safe, to avoid further trafficking risks, to pursue social reintegration in employment, education and the community, and to contribute positively to society.

In the context of Covid-19, three years is the minimum period of stable leave to remain that we can recommend in order to support vulnerable survivors of trafficking crime to remain as safe as possible and thereby to safeguard the public health of the population as a whole.