The UK has unveiled legislation to speed up the deportation of foreign criminals who have claimed protection under the country’s modern slavery laws.
Under the changes, which come into force on Monday, the government will be able to withhold protections from anyone sentenced to 12 months or more, or convicted of serious offences such as murder or terrorism, as part of a wider crackdown on illegal migrants.
It means Home Office caseworkers can now demand evidence of modern slavery, rather than taking a victim's word.
Evidence could include testimonies from a charity worker or a police officer who has helped to rescue the victim.
The Home Office cited a case in which a convicted rapist appealed against a decision by the Home Office to deport him from Britain by claiming he was a victim of criminal gangs engaged in human trafficking.
He was bailed pending the appeal, committed another rape and remains in the UK, the Home Office said.
“It is totally unfair that genuine victims of modern slavery may be left waiting longer to receive the protections they need due to the flagrant abuse of the system,” Home Secretary Suella Braverman said.
“The changes coming into force will mean if you've committed an offence, we have the power to refuse your protections and kick you out of our country.”
But they have been criticised by rights groups for undermining protections for genuine victims.
Another initiative by Ms Braverman — to fly cross-Channel migrants to Rwanda for permanent resettlement — was already blocked in the courts.
Britain's National Crime Agency reported in November that Albanian crime groups in particular were manipulating the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), which is being reformed under new laws.
Established in 2009 to protect human trafficking victims, the NRM is used to identify and refer them to UK government agencies to ensure they receive appropriate support.
If caught working in cannabis farms or other criminal enterprises, Albanian migrants have been coached to claim they are victims of modern-day slavery and apply to the NRM, the crime agency's report said.
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Previously, if a foreign offender claimed to be a victim of modern slavery, any action to remove them would be paused while their claim was considered.
But from Monday, the government will be able to prevent certain foreign criminals and anyone who has made false claims from benefitting from the protections provided by the NRM.
The Home Office said that guidance for case workers will also be updated so that when reviewing a claim, there should be objective evidence of modern slavery rather than “mere suspicion”.
In December, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a new deal with Albania to stem the flow of migrants from the country crossing the Channel on small boats from mainland Europe.
The agreement only came about after the government in Tirana demanded an apology for an anti-migrant “campaign” in UK media, following incendiary rhetoric from Ms Braverman.
But the minister has maintained a hard line, to the delight of Conservative right-wingers keen to show that Britain can control its borders after Brexit, and the clampdown is one of five priorities promised by Mr Sunak for this year.
Ministry of Defence figures show that 991 migrants have crossed the Channel to the UK so far this year.
“We must stop people exploiting our immigration and asylum laws,” Ms Braverman said. “And I am personally determined to crack down on those abusing the generosity of the British public and taking our country for a ride.”
Albanians accounted for more than half of migrants who claimed to be victims of modern slavery in the first half of last year, figures suggest.
Data obtained under Freedom of Information laws from the Home Office shows 1,156 people were recorded as making such a claim between January and June 2022.
Of these, 591 were Albanian, according to figures provided by the department following a request from campaign group Migration Watch.
At the weekend, 83 migrants on two UK-bound small boats were rescued in the Channel.
The French coastguard said several small boats tried to cross the Channel on Sunday, with two getting into difficulty off the coast of Gravelines.
The coastguard said 54 people had been rescued from one boat and 29 from another.
They were taken to the port of Calais, where they were met by emergency services, according to the translation of a statement from the Prefecture for the Channel and the North Sea.