The number of potential victims of trafficking and modern slavery reported to the authorities has risen by more than 80% in two years. That’s according to figures released by the National Crime Agency. The National Referral Mechanism end of year summary shows that, in 2018, a total of 6,993 potential victims were referred into the system. That’s up from 5,142 in 2017 and 3,804 in 2016.
Potential victims from 130 different countries were identified. For the second consecutive year, British citizens made up the largest nationality (1,625), with Albanians (947) and Vietnamese (702) second and third.
The number of British citizens reported was almost double the number from 2017, while the numbers of minors referred increased by 48%. Both increases were driven by the numbers referred for labour exploitation, which includes those exploited for criminal purposes by County Lines gangs.
Overall, those referred in the labour exploitation category made up more than half of the total number.
Roy McComb, deputy director at the National Crime Agency, said: “The increase is undoubtedly the result of greater awareness, understanding and reporting of modern slavery. That’s something to be welcomed. However, the more we look the more we find, and it’s likely these figures represent only a snapshot of the true scale of slavery and trafficking in the UK. Of particular concern is the increase in referrals made for ‘County Lines’-type exploitation. These are often vulnerable individuals – and often children – who are exploited by criminal gangs for the purposes of drug trafficking.”
McComb added: “Our understanding of the threat is much greater than it was a few years ago. Modern slavery remains a high priority for law enforcement, with around 1,500 criminal investigations currently live in the UK. We cannot stop modern slavery alone, though. We need support and assistance from across the public and private sectors, NGOs and most of all the public themselves.”
The National Referral Mechanism is a framework for identifying victims of modern slavery or human trafficking and ensuring they receive the appropriate support. It’s also the mechanism through which data is collected about victims, helping to build a clearer picture about the scope of the threat.
Under the existing National Referral Mechanism process, potential victims are referred by ‘first responders’ – including police, public bodies and a number of specified NGOs – to one of two competent authorities: the National Crime Agency’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit for EEA nationals and the Home Office for non-EEA cases. They then make a decision about their status.
From 29 April this will change when the Home Office becomes the single competent authority for dealing with referrals. This is part of a package of reforms to the National Referral Mechanism announced by the Government back in October 2017 to improve the identification of – and support for – victims of modern slavery.