With the number of undocumented migrants on the rise, the EUSS deadline fast approaching and the Nationality & Borders Bill in Westminster, concerns are rising over the safety and welfare of immigrants.
A recent report by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants We Also Want to be Safe has considered the experiences of undocumented migrants’ during the COVID pandemic, with specific focus on financial security, work, housing and access to healthcare. The evidence for the Report is based on interviews conducted in London in September and October 2021 and places a spotlight on some of the experiences that have been largely overlooked. It highlights that those who are undocumented are often overrepresented on the frontline in areas such as cleaning, health and care work, construction, agriculture and hospitality. These are all areas thought to be a higher risk of human trafficking.
The report found that undocumented migrants have faced financial insecurity, precarious employment and insecure housing, all of which puts them at greater risk of being trafficked or vulnerable to exploitation and as a particularly vulnerable group, their employers may use their lack of immigration status as a tool to threaten, coerce and control.
Although shocking, the findings will not come as a surprise to most anti-trafficking organisations in the UK. SOHTIS has previously highlighted in their report, When Work Doesn’t Pay the demand for low paid, low skilled labour within the post-COVID climate of financial insecurity. It’s thought that an increase in remote working, reliance on technological communications and the relaxation and outsourcing of human resource and recruitment practices during the pandemic have created a lucrative environment for traffickers.
Over a 12 week period, SOHTIS found 200 online job postings across a range of industries which raised concerns of potential labour exploitation. Posts in the highest risk category included explicit references to charges for recruitment, travel and accommodation, salaries below the minimum wage and no need for COVID quarantining. The majority of recruitment was targeted at migrants who were already vulnerable due to financial hardship and lack of alternative employment. Once recruited these migrants are easily manipulated and controlled by their employers.
Human trafficking has a profound and enduring impact on individuals. SOHTIS welcomes the report by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants’ which makes the following crucial recommendations:
- Ensuring migrants are included in the 2022 COVID inquiry;
- An end to the “Hostile Environment” which is a set of policies introduced in 2012 by the Coalition Government with the aim of making life in the UK difficult for those that do not have the correct paperwork. The Hostile Environment undermines public health efforts and puts migrants’ lives at risk;
- Suspend NRPF to ensure that migrants do not have to choose between their own and the public’s health;
- Introduce a firewall between the NHS and Home Office and suspend NHS charging to ensure healthcare and COVID recovery work for all, regardless of immigration status;
- Introduce a new simplified route to regularisation based on 5 years’ residence;
- Make all visa routes affordable; and
- Abolish the illegal working offence and introduce a work permit system.
Labour abuses, including human trafficking for forced labour requires tough, decisive and urgent action and SOHTIS call on all stakeholders to take this action now.
For more information on the work of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants see: https://www.jcwi.org.uk/
Call to Action
We can all be involved in being part of the solution to modern slavery and human trafficking in Scotland. Some as simple as raising awareness by following SOHTIS on social media and sharing our posts or joining our volunteer hubs, linking us with useful networking contacts and fundraising or donating funds.
Please get in touch to find out how you can join us in bringing freedom.
If you have suspicions, or concerns about anyone in your neighbourhood or your contact the MODERN SLAVERY HELPLINE on 08000 121 700, if there is immediate danger contact
POLICE SCOTLAND on 999