After years of advocating for increased protections for victims, Law Centre NI is today delighted to see the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Bill, which strengthens support for victims and survivors of modern slavery, pass its final stage in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Up to now, not all victims of trafficking and modern slavery have had the support they need to rebuild their lives, often finding themselves falling back on charitable help to get by. Despite being recognised as survivors of human trafficking, a small number of victims have found themselves homeless and destitute and at risk of being exploited again. This means that Northern Ireland is leading the way in the UK by ensuring that all victims of modern slavery will be entitled to statutory support during the trafficking determination process and beyond for up to twelve months, where necessary.
Speaking after the legislation cleared the final stage in the Northern Ireland Assembly, Liz Griffith, Head of Research and Policy in the Migration Justice Project at Law Centre NI, said:
“This has been a long-standing gap in the protection available to victims of trafficking. Along with our partners, Belfast and Lisburn Women’s Aid, Flourish NI and Migrant Help, and with ongoing collaboration with CARE, we want to thank the Minister, her officials and the members and Chair of the Justice Committee for working to achieve this important change. The new law will mean that victims like Lukas will have a better future in Northern Ireland and we look forward to its prompt implementation.”
Lukas is a European national who was trafficked to Northern Ireland for criminal exploitation. He was initially supported during the trafficking determination process. However, when Lukas was officially acknowledged to be a victim of trafficking, this support ceased.
Lukas’s immigration status means that he is not eligible to receive social security. He became homeless and had to ‘sofa surf’ and then live in a tent. Lukas is keen to start work but without a fixed address and with limited English language skills this is virtually impossible. His precarious situation means he is susceptible to being picked up by other would-be exploiters.
This new law means that people like Lukas will be able to rely on statutory support for to 12 months after the trafficking decision. This gives the survivors time to improve their skills, secure decent work and to fully move on with their lives.
Northern Ireland is the first jurisdiction in the UK to provide victims and survivors with this statutory entitlement to support on completion of the trafficking determination process. Law Centre will be working with its sister organisations – Belfast and Lisburn Women’s Aid, Flourish NI and Migrant Help – so they can advocate for this change to be implemented in other jurisdictions.