Human Trafficking in the U.K.In March 2023, the U.K. government set out to implement its new solution to the challenge of small boat Channel crossings, a route that at least 45,755 migrants used to gain entry into the country in 2022 alone. The new Illegal Migration Bill could see asylum seekers who arrive in the U.K. through this route removed from the country, potentially impacting the legal and practical support available to victims of human trafficking in the country.

Human Trafficking and Migration in the U.K.

Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery that involves the exploitation of individuals through the use of force, fraud or coercion to entrap victims into manual labor or sex work. Traffickers use various forms of violence and manipulation to entrap victims. And often, victims from vulnerable backgrounds fall for enticing promises only to find themselves facing the threat of violence once the charade is over.
As things stand, accurately quantifying rates of human trafficking is a challenge, but police records, reports and legal evidence all point to a year-on-year increase in cases of human trafficking in the U.K. In fact, estimates suggest that human trafficking was responsible for the majority of the 130,000 victims of modern slavery identified in the U.K. in 2022. In 2018, 6,993 potential victims of human trafficking, originating from 130 different countries, were identified in the U.K.
Migration and human trafficking are closely linked. And sadly, migrants are especially vulnerable to human trafficking for reasons including poverty, marginalization, language barriers and conflict. Traffickers actively prey upon vulnerable individuals, seeking out signs of economic, political and psychological hardship, as well as a lack of social support.

The Importance of Legislation

The vulnerability of migrants to human trafficking can be entrenched or alleviated by legislation. For instance, restrictive immigration laws that limit the legal movement of people into a country can force migrants to seek entry routes with higher levels of risk, including relying on smugglers and traffickers. The U.K.’s new Illegal Migration bill is an example of such legislation.
The Illegal Migration Bill stipulates stopping any migrant entering the U.K. on small boats across the English Channel from having their claim considered, constituting an effective ban on migration. Practically, this would extend to all victims of human trafficking who entered through this route. Between 2018 and 2022, 7% of migrants entering the U.K. on small boats claimed to be victims of trafficking and modern slavery.
So far, leading human trafficking organizations in the U.K. have raised concerns that the government’s plan would “needlessly block victims of trafficking and slavery from accessing safety and recovery.” Under the new legislation, victims of human trafficking who enter the U.K. through this route would be disqualified from the National Referral Mechanism, which is the only national framework in place for identifying and supporting potential victims of human trafficking.
Alongside reducing protection and support for victims, stricter immigration laws may increase the profitability of human trafficking. A reduction in legal routes through which to enter the U.K. would likely drive people to rely on traffickers. Furthermore, the illegality of all small boat Channel crossings would tighten the hold that traffickers have over their victims as they can exploit migrants’ fear of criminalization and deportation. By denying any migrants who enter in small boats the right to identify as victims of crime, this bill could increase the hold that traffickers have over victims and trap countless victims in unsafe, exploitative situations.

The Pushback

Anti-Slavery International is an organization working to combat detrimental legislation in the U.K. In 2009, it established the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG), a coalition of organizations that exists to monitor the state of the U.K.’s implementation of European anti-trafficking legislation. Since its establishment, the ATMG has successfully influenced legislation such as the Modern Slavery Act, supported the introduction of an Anti-Slavery Commissioner, supported the reversal of a decision to cut down the financial support given to victims of trafficking and ensured that survivors have long-term support from the government. Even more, by amplifying the voices of victims and survivors, the ATMG has made a significant impact in the U.K. and has ensured that legislation such as the Illegal Migration Bill cannot leave all victims ignored and unrepresented.

Reducing Human Trafficking in the U.K.

Aside from a focus on the legislature, there is already a solid foundation of support for potential victims and survivors of human trafficking in the U.K. The Medaille Trust, a leading organization in the fight against human trafficking, takes a holistic approach that aims to reduce trafficking, encompassing prevention, protection and prosecution.


The Medaille Trust emphasizes the importance of raising awareness about the risks and signs of human trafficking. Furthermore, one of its main goals is to support socioeconomic development among impoverished communities. By addressing the root causes of vulnerability to trafficking, such as poverty, the Medaille Trust empowers individuals to withstand and protect themselves against the efforts of human traffickers.


The Medaille Trust provides comprehensive support to victims and survivors of human trafficking through the provision of legal, therapeutic and financial support. Through collaboration with law enforcement agencies, the organization improves arrest rates and offers accommodation for those rescued. In the longer term, the Medaille Trust provides supported accommodation and a specialized ‘moving on’ program that focuses on the resilience and well-being of predominantly female survivors.


The Medaille Trust actively contributes to the prosecution of traffickers. The organization provides U.K. law enforcement agencies with monthly intelligence summaries about human trafficking, facilitates annual conferences for sharing best practices and works alongside survivors who are providing evidence to improve their chances of successful convictions. Through the work of advocacy organizations like the Medaille Trust, the U.K. has seen an increase in convictions for traffickers, a vital step toward combatting human trafficking in the U.K.

Looking Ahead

Overall, legislation plays a crucial role in determining the level of protection and support afforded to victims of human trafficking. And the proposed Illegal Migration bill presented by the British government creates risks for victims of human trafficking in the U.K. as it threatens to strip all migrants entering in small boats of their right to claim support as victims of crime and exploitation. Despite these challenges, a diverse range of international and domestic organizations advocate intently for this vulnerable group, offering support to both survivors and potential victims. Moreover, organizations such as the Medaille Trust actively foster collaboration within the U.K., creating a united front against human trafficking and mitigating the increased risks presented by legislation such as the Illegal Migration Bill.

– Polly Walton
Photo: Flickr