UK politicians seek change to modern slavery laws to ease migrant crisis

Conservative MPs say simple amendment to legislation would make it easier to return asylum seekers who claim to have been trafficked

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought to Dover, Kent, on a UK Border Force vessel. PA
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British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been urged by more than 50 Tory MPs to change modern slavery laws with emergency legislation, in an attempt to reduce the number of small boats crossing the English Channel.

Mr Sunak was pressed by the group, which includes former cabinet ministers, to rapidly implement a “simple” change in the law to help tackle the issue.

The MPs want to amend modern slavery laws to make it easier for asylum applicants who say they are victims of trafficking to be returned to their home country.

The demand comes as Mr Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman face pressure to prevent the crossings and improve the conditions that asylum seekers experience in the UK.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick has said 80 per cent of people crossing on small boats are Albanian. Just over 4,700 Albanian citizens applied for asylum in the first half of this year.

The Oxford-based Migration Observatory, a project providing analysis of UK immigration and migration issues, reported that 86 per cent of successful adult asylum seekers from Albania are women.

It suggested many Albanian asylum applicants are thought to be victims of trafficking.

In a letter arranged by former Brexit secretary David Davis, the Tory backbenchers say that the Channel crossings are a “Gordian Knot that needs cutting with a simple policy”.

On Monday, Mr Davis told Sky News: “If you have been human-trafficked, surely the right answer is to put you back in your own home. There's no argument for asylum from Albania here.”

Signatories to the letter including Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, demand that “economic migrants” travelling from “safe countries” such as Albania are returned more quickly.

They argue that “people claiming they have been unwilling victims of human trafficking or modern slavery” should be returned “to their homes in the villages from which they came from”.

The Tories argue “if they have really been taken against their will, then they could not reasonably object to being returned to their own homes”.

“The quirks in our modern slavery laws that prevent this are clearly in defiance of the aims of that law and should be removed,” they wrote.

They argue the “straightforward and legally workable way of addressing the crisis” would be a “very strong deterrent” for those planning to risk the perilous crossing to the UK.

Former cabinet ministers Dr Liam Fox and Esther McVey, plus longest-serving MP Peter Bottomley, also signed the letter, which demonstrates nerves among the Conservatives that failing to tackle the issue will hurt them at the ballot box.

Ms Braverman has come under fire over the dire conditions in the Manston migrant processing centre, the site in Kent, south-east England, where one man died of diphtheria while in detention.

She is also facing criticism for failing to slow the perilous crossings of the English Channel by people in small boats.

This week she admitted the government has “failed to control our borders” but blamed desperate migrants and people smugglers for the overcrowding in Manston.

“I tell you who’s at fault. It’s very clear who’s at fault. It’s the people who are breaking our rules, coming here illegally, exploiting vulnerable people and trying to reduce the generosity of the British people. That’s who’s at fault,” she told MPs.

A Home Office source said Ms Braverman is “working flat out alongside the Prime Minister to bring in reforms to help stem the flow of migrants across the Channel”.

Updated: November 28, 2022, 10:15 AM