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UK: Former slavery victims returned to country of origin notwithstanding alleged risks

Author: Kieran Guilbert, Thomson Reuters Foundation , Published on: 8 August 2019

"EXCLUSIVE - UK found sending home dozens of slavery victims despite re-trafficking fears", 6 August 2019 

Britain has sent home or aided the return of dozens of modern slaves to trafficking hotspots including Albania, Nigeria and Vietnam in recent years, raising concerns this put people at risk of being re-trafficked due to a lack of support in their home countries.

The government subjected 36 victims to "enforced returns" between 2014 and 2018, according to Home Office (interior ministry) data... Another 41 ex-slaves were found to have undergone "voluntary returns"...

Anti-slavery charities said these numbers could be just the tip of the iceberg... The full picture of how Britain handles people freed from modern slavery is unclear as authorities do not publish data on how many survivors have applied for asylum or how many are allowed to remain or sent home... 

A Home Office spokesman said Britain was ensuring that victims of trafficking and slavery "get the support they need". "The Voluntary Returns Service includes help with flights, travel documents, medical aid and reintegration, and the Home Office works closely with other governments and organisations to ensure safe returns," he said.

The Home Office said it funded support and reintegration help for trafficking victims in Nigeria and Vietnam, but did not provide any further details about the nature of such assistance.

"There are concerns when people go back, particularly with voluntary returns, that the work done in the country of origin is ... rather cursory," said Sara Thornton, Britain's second anti-slavery commissioner... 

People who report being enslaved can access support - from healthcare and housing to legal aid - while the British government decides whether or not to recognise them as victims.

But activists said a lack of long-term follow-on support for confirmed victims left many to choose between homelessness and the risk of fresh exploitation in Britain, or an uncertain return home and threat of facing their traffickers again. 

"For some victims, returning home is a positive step," said Maya Esslemont, director of After Exploitation. "However, for many others, the risk of re-trafficking, reprisals from trafficking gangs, and being shunned by family and community due to stigma makes returning a dangerous option."

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