The Home Office has reminded its immigration staff of protocols to tackle modern slavery after it emerged that it had sent victims of human trafficking it had detained back to the addresses where they had been enslaved.
Under the national referral mechanism – the national framework for identifying victims of modern slavery – the Salvation Army is contracted by the Home Office to provide specialist support, including accommodation, to victims. The department is supposed to contact the charity if any of the people it has held in asylum detention centres are identified as victims, so they can receive support.
But the department has admitted that protocols have not always been followed, following an investigation by the Independent that revealed that revealed multiple detainees have, on being released, been told to return to the addresses where they were held against their will.
In one case, a woman who had been detained in the Yarl’s Wood detention centre after being discovered at an address in London where she was forced to work in the sex trade, was told to return to the same address.
A caseworker for the Salvation Army told the Independent it had “no record” of the woman, and that they had complained to the Home Office that the case raised “grave safeguarding concerns”.
The caseworker said: “This is not the first time this situation has occurred within Home Office and IRCs [immigration removal centres]. It is completely unacceptable and we need to liaise, communicate and understand each other’s processes to find a positive solution to dealing with victims of modern day slavery and human trafficking.”
A spokesperson for the Home Office told the newspaper that it “accepted and regretted that the correct processes were not initially followed” and was investigating the case, having contacted the Salvation Army "to arrange accommodation once the address provided was deemed unsafe".
"We have reminded all staff of the correct procedures and are investigating this case to see what more can be done to prevent incidents like this happening again.”
The spokesperson said applications for accommodation were “considered on a case-by-case basis, reflecting each individual’s circumstances.”
The revelations came to light just days after the Home Office announced changes to the national referral mechanism, which received 6,993 referrals last year.
On Friday, the department said it had appointed 10 independent chairs to lead panels that will review cases where the Single Competent Authority – the Home Office body that decides victims’ status – had been unable to determine conclusively that someone is a victim of modern slavery.
The “multi-agency assurance panels” will review all inconclusive decisions and will have the power to compel the Home Office to reconsider decisions panel members believe to be incorrect.
A recruitment pack published by the Home Office last year said the panels would include representatives from the police, local authorities, non-governmental organisations and technical specialists that sit on the Single Competent Authority, which makes decisions on victims’ status.
The panel will replace separate units that existed in both the National Crime Agency and UK Visas and Immigration.
Announcing the changes, crime minister Victoria Atkins said the government was “committed to stamping out this horrific crime and ensuring that victims get the support they need”, and assess whether the correct decision had been made.