• Mike Hand

Surge in suspected modern slavery victims waiting years for Home Office decisions, figures show

The number of suspected modern slavery victims left waiting over two years for a Home Office decision on their case has surged by more than half in just three months, fuelling concerns that a delay-ridden system is pushing people back into exploitation.

New data obtained through freedom of information laws show 4,991 people had been waiting for more than six months for a decision from the National referral Mechanism (NRM) – the UK’s framework for identifying modern slavery victims – in September 2019, compared with 4,027 just three months before in June.

A total of 605 people had been waiting more than two years in the latest figures, compared with 397 in June 2019 – a rise of 52 per cent.

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is designed to identify modern slavery victims and offer them a 45-day period to recover while the Home Office investigates their case. A decision on whether their claim is genuine should be made “as soon as possible” after this period.

The status of their immigration and whether or not the claimant could face criminal charges are two of the potential consequences dependent on the outcome of the decision.

Campaigners said the growing waiting times undermined the recovery process and were leaving victims in limbo and at risk of falling back into the hands of their abusers.

Graham O’Neill, policy manager at the Scottish Refugee Council, which obtained the data, said the figures exposed that the “pattern of Home Office persistent delays” in the asylum system had now been allowed to spread to the NRM. “This cannot go on,” he said.

“Far from protecting people and enabling recovery, such limbo predicaments prevent that and deny the benefit of the full rights and support that the legislation and policy entitle survivors to.

“It can also make it more difficult for the police and prosecutors to bring exploiters to justice as survivors have not been fully recognised as such.”

Mr O’Neill argued that the NRM should be taken out of the Home Office. “There are multiple reasons now that the UK government must enable an independent agency to take control over deciding whether someone has survived trafficking and exploitation,” he said.

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