We developed an Anti-Trafficking Project to deliver crucial information to women who have experienced modern slavery and/or human trafficking. We explain what modern slavery is, what the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is and what support is available outside of the NRM.
The NRM is a UK government framework for identifying and supporting victims of modern slavery. The UK government also gathers data about victims to monitor human trafficking. Referrals into the NRM can only be made by authorised First Responders including the Home Office and Migrant Help. Adult referrals are initially assessed by the Modern Slavery Team at the Salvation Army.
Our trained Anti-Trafficking staff and volunteers use one to one sessions with individuals to explain how this system works, and connect women to legal representation if required, helping them to access our wider services. We place particular emphasis on connecting women to legal representation prior to referral so that they can understand the legal implications of submitting this statement. For those who choose to enter the NRM, we support them to give their statement for the referral.
To prepare women for the future and strengthen their ability to survive independently, we explore safety measures together and provide tools to ensure they can recognise the signs of exploitation and safeguard themselves against future harm.
There is a significant gap in good quality advice around the NRM. Many women in the asylum process, who have experienced modern slavery and/or human trafficking, go unidentified. Consequently they remain unaware of their rights and the support that may be available to.
Equally, entering the NRM and getting a negative decision, which finds that you are not a victim of modern slavery, can have significant consequences which women need to be aware of. In this situation, NRM support will end and it can adversely affect your asylum claim, e.g. by affecting your credibility. You also won't be eligible to apply for Discretionary Leave to Remain on the grounds of being a conclusively recognised victim of modern slavery.
That’s why we want to ensure that women who are potential victims of trafficking are provided with good quality advice and are aware of their rights and entitlements as early on in the asylum process as possible. This helps them exercise their rights, access appropriate support and make informed decisions about entering the NRM.
The gap in support around the NRM is exacerbated in “widening dispersal areas” such as Cheshire East & Runcorn. Women are accommodated here but the areas lack well-established and expert support organisations. By connecting with women in initial accommodation in Liverpool and staying in touch with them after dispersal, we ensure they have access to the vital information they need.
The women we work with in the Anti-Trafficking Project have very distinct needs. They require support that the majority of services do not provide. As a women’s charity we also use a gender-informed approach. This means we recognise how women's experiences, needs and responses are influenced by their gender. This knowledge informs how we deliver services that are more holistic, person-centred and responsive.
I wish I’d known the whole process, in order, from the start, so I could know how it would evolve
— Refugee Women Connect service user involved in developing the project.
Increases access to justice and empowers women to make best decisions. Women in the service really understand their rights and the process they are going through. They have all the information they need to make an informed decision, and if they choose to, give informed consent for an NRM referral, which in other settings is often lacking.
Increases women’s knowledge and understanding. They are able to give examples of the different types of exploitation and the support options available, and to increase their independence and decision making skills. After taking in the information, some women decide not to engage with the NRM and choose to engage when it is appropriate for them. This is a positive outcome, very different to common Home Office practice, showing how women are empowered to make decisions that are right for them.
Referrals made by the project are high quality. So far all “Reasonable Grounds” decisions made on referrals supported by the project have been positive.
We worked with 5 women identified as potentially needing support through the Early Action needs assessment.
After one to one information sessions, all the women showed improvements in their knowledge of modern slavery and the NRM compared to the start and they all self-reported that the project had enhanced their understanding of the NRM.
M gave positive feedback including that she now felt significantly more able to safeguard herself against future exploitation and felt prepared to make the important decision about whether to enter the NRM or not.
After the initial information sessions they all chose to continue their engagement with the project. Four clients chose to access legal advice to discuss their trafficking cases further (one had already discussed her case with her legal representative). We were able to secure appointments for all clients with a specialist trafficking solicitor and completed a Subject Access Request for a client requesting all information the Home Office holds on her relating to her status as a Potential Victim of Trafficking.
Reduces women’s risk of poverty and homelessness -The project helps them apply for financial support and accommodation that they are entitled to, and resolve any issues that emerge
Reduces social isolation and mental health crisis The project offers women weekly phone contact, which they say reminds them that there are individuals and organisations who care about their wellbeing and who wish to support them. Through ongoing contact, we are able to monitor their mental health and make referrals to local counselling services and ensure their sustained involvement in the wider services of Refugee Women Connect.
We have increased volunteer awareness of moden slavery and exploitation by adding Modern Slavery Awaressness to our volunteer training programme. As a result, there has been an increase in the number of referrals into the Anti-Trafficking Project from volunteers across the organisation.
Through this project, we have become involved at a strategic level with Liverpool City Council’s anti-trafficking response. We have provided consultation and specialist advice on the development of their work, how they can better fulfil their role as first responders and ultimately better support potential victims of trafficking. As a result of effective working with the local authority we have also improved our ability to safeguard women.
We have made links with and begun working with partner organisations, co-delivering advanced training for professionals with Maternity Action on the support and housing options for people under the NRM.
The foundation for the Anti-Trafficking project was our Early Action legal literacy work, where we help women to understand and navigate the asylum process and asylum support system.
Too often we were seeing women who were in the NRM but with little to no understanding about it or it’s importance and potential impact for their asylum claim.
So to develop the project we build upon what was working well, collaborated with legal representatives and a third sector partner and crucially, involved women with experience of modern slavery and/or trafficking.
Previously, identification of women in need of anti-trafficking support was inconsistent and women could be missed out. Now our Early Action sessions include pre-emptive information around modern slavery. This ensures that all women have access to the same information and the opportunity to access further support if required. Volunteers now also have a greater awareness of model slavery and the support we offer.
We continue to be agile and continually develop the project. We have made changes to the resources we use to deliver information and reduced the amount of information delivered per session as we felt the original amount was overwhelming and clients were not focusing for the duration of the session.
We have adjusted the resources so that plain English is being used and explanations are simplified so that they translate well when using an interpreter. We have also created an information leaflet to be distributed to clients and we are in the process of having these resources translated.
The NRM, like the asylum system, is complicated and confusing. A key challenge is finding the best way to deliver large amounts of complex information in engaging ways that women can comprehend and retain.
We’ve also spent a lot of time working with the local authority to help them develop a more holistic approach to working with women who are victims of trafficking and to promote a multi-agency safeguarding approach across the region.
Working remotely throughout the Covid-19 pandemic has brought new challenges. We are not seeing the same numbers of women as before because it is much harder to identify women who may benefit. It’s harder to build the relationships of trust that facilitate this type of work and safeguarding is made more challenging. We’ve had to adapt our practice accordingly
We’d like to develop a rolling programme of Anti-Trafficking training for all staff and volunteers. We plan to work with all our teams to think about how they can contribute to the project, beyond making referrals, so that it is embedded across the whole organisation.