Libi Sears, Rene Cassin Intern
The new government guidance released on Modern Slavery and Asylum Allocation referred me to the Jewish proverb “a half truth is a whole lie”. Analysing these documents, my thoughts were dominated by the stories of real people. These stories were taken from the media over several weeks and contradicted what I was reading. These contradictions should not go unnoticed and untold.
Guidance to Modern Slavery focused on effective methods of helping victims of modern slavery through identifying key indicators, raising awareness, and suggesting means of aid. The document outlined the “vulnerabilities of persons”, referring to women and girls, those who speak little English, and immigrants, as well as the likelihood that many victims would be re-trafficked.
The Independent Newspaper commented on “Modern slavery [being] everywhere”. Collected evidence demonstrated how British farmers were exploiting seasonal workers, through public humiliation, unpaid hours, and poor living conditions. “A Ukrainian worker spoke of her experience as a fruit picker, hired by a government-registered recruiter: she said she was left “starving” and confined to her caravan with no access to medical assistance or food for 11 days.” Her treatment directly goes against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, forbidding servitude. Article 25 states the right to food and medical assistance, and her confinement to the caravan denies her the basic right to freedom of movement. These rights should be given; this was taken from her, and she experienced “a lack of livelihood [that was] beyond her control”.
Many allegations have been raised with the Home Office, but none have been investigated. Eli Weisel wrote “the opposite to life is not death, it’s indifference”. Lack of action in the protection of people is “indifference”. Despite a Home Office response team, the discrepancies between guidance and the experience of people still exist. Support stated in the guidance must translate into government action.
Mass discrepancies continue in the guidance for Asylum Allocation, written in response to the 200 asylum-seeking children who went missing after being placed in hotels run by the Home Office in January 2023. Concerned parties commented on the possibility of these missing children being trafficked and exploited. “The care and regard for a child must go above all else” [Citizens and Immigration Act 2009]; the guidance reiterates this by claiming the treatment of a child should equate to that of a British National. Nevertheless, the Home Office lost contact with 200 vulnerable children.
Asylum Allocation Guidance states that each case should be reviewed with individual consideration. This guidance report was fueled by the need for additional protection of children yet discussions on “age-disputed persons” dominated government efforts.
Simone Veil once said, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”. I would like to challenge, along with other parties, the ‘attention’ of the Home office. Charities have commented on how child asylum seekers are being forced to share hotel rooms with adults, under the hotel “maximisation” programme. The Guardian interviewed seven young asylum seekers in Yorkshire, who had informed border guards of their age (being 16 or 17 upon arrival on small boats in August and September). However, all were classified as adults by officials and allocated ages between 22 and 26. Further support to such claims was made by the Refugee Council (2021), where “its age assessment project worked with 233 young people who were declared by the Home Office as “certainly” adult. Only 14 were identified as adults and 94% of these cases were overturned. Despite the guidance being a response to the 200 missing children, many still experience vulnerability and inadequate safeguarding. This needs addressing.
The greatest inconsistency found within this guidance was that of “suitability”. References to the suitability of vessels and ex-Ministry of Defense holding sites are challenged by comparisons made by the tenants, who compared conditions to “prisons”. “It would be wrong for cats and dogs to be housed on a ship – never mind human beings”, a ‘prisoner’ from Bibby Stockholm commented. The criminalisation of migrants and refugees – by the Nationality and Boarders Act 2022 – remains a significant problem, one that will be exacerbated with the help of the Illegal Migration Act 2023. Another example is from RAF Wethersfield, which “falsely imprisoned asylum seekers, placing them under 24/7 surveillance, restricting their liberty and separating them from any semblance of community”. This has been labelled a ‘choice’. Such hostility goes against the international obligation of providing safety and protection; as well as the basic human right to freedom of movement and the right to claim asylum. The experiences of life on these vessels are starkly in opposition to that stated by the government.
When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf in the field, do not turn back to get it; it shall go to the STRANGER, the FATHERLESS and the WIDOWDeuteronomy 24:19
This biblical verse preaches the importance of giving what you can to others, those who are in greater need. Building on the concept of Tzedakah, the giving of charity does not only refer to attending to physical needs. Attendance and acknowledgment of preserving the dignity of people is a prerequisite as well. One should not “overlook” but actively seek to understand the needs of others.
The Home Office not only has a legal obligation to provide accommodation to asylum seekers who would otherwise be homeless, it should actively attend to those within its care. In reality, a concerning correlation between claims of asylum and raising homelessness has been found. Info Migrants warns that by the end of December (2023), “Britain’s major cities are expecting thousands of newly recognized refugees to be made homeless”, as claimants of asylum who are successful, would be forced into a state of homelessness until their welfare provisions were received (often taking 30 days). Sudden homelessness is compounded by their increased risk of exploitation and trafficking. Moreover, their vulnerabilities are made public and can easily fall victim to modern slavery.
Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states the prohibition of “arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondents”. Thus, forced destitution is taking away entitled rights.
The Refugee Council issued a letter detailing the concern for refugees who are left destitute and need support from asylum accommodation services. Adjustment to this gap will ensure that both domestic and international obligations are fulfilled and will help prevent some of the hardships experienced on a day of “supposed celebrations”. Amendments must be made to government documents to ensure these ‘expectations’ do not occur.
In conclusion, greater attention needs to be taken to ensure the protection and dignity of people. The counternarratives exposed show the government guidance to be something of a “half-truth”. Collated evidence from the press reveals inconsistency in implementing such guidance.
An ideal is a LIE to many.