Britain slavery numbers surge as more victims identified

By Thomson Reuters Foundation/Adela Suliman   October 16, 2017 | 07:35 pm PT
For the first time this year, the highest number of male victims were from Vietnam.

The number of modern slavery victims in Britain has surged by 300 percent over the last six years, with nearly half trafficked for sexual exploitation, a charity that supports victims said on Monday.

Britain passed a tough anti-slavery law in 2015 introducing life sentences for traffickers, and the surge in numbers referred for support may reflect better awareness of the crime.

Close to 6,000 people have been referred to The Salvation Army, an international Christian charity, since 2011 when it started running adult slavery support services for the British government.

This year, just under half of victims were trafficked for sexual exploitation, the charity said in a report, with 39 percent trafficked into labor exploitation and 3 percent into domestic servitude.

Since 2011, one victim had been trafficked for organ removal, and overall numbers of referrals had surged to 1,554 people.

"It could indicate either that there are more victims, or that we are better at identifying them," Anne Read, The Salvation Army's director of anti-trafficking and modern slavery, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"It's about people who would have previously slipped through the net now getting the support that they deserve."

At least 13,000 people are estimated to be victims of modern slavery in Britain, but police say that figure is just the tip of an iceberg, with numbers rising countrywide.

Victims are trafficked for exploitation on farms, in nail bars, private houses or prostitution. They were overwhelmingly concentrated in the capital London but the charity said it has a number of "safe houses" throughout England and Wales.

The victims arrived from 95 countries, with the highest number of female victims supported by The Salvation Army from Albania and Nigeria. For the first time this year, the highest number of male victims were from Vietnam.

The report found steep increases in numbers of trafficking victims from China, India and Pakistan.

"We're waking up to the fact that there are thousands of people in slavery in Britain today," said Jakub Sobik of rights group Anti-Slavery International.

Sobik said the increase could be due to better understanding of the crime both in frontline policing and among the agencies established to support victims.

Britain is regarded as a leader in global efforts to combat trafficking, which became a crime under the Modern Slavery Act in 2015, but Sobik said Britain could do more to protect victims, especially children.

"We are still yet to see a comprehensive system of protection of victims of slavery in the U.K.," he said.

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