Criminals behind modern slavery and human trafficking are “winning”, the Santa Marta Group has warned, as it called for a review into the framework for identifying and providing support to victims.
The Santa Marta Group, an alliance of international police chiefs and bishops from around the world working together with civil society in a process endorsed by Pope Francis to eradicate human trafficking and modern day slavery, said the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), which was introduced in 2009 in order to identify and support victims of trafficking, “remains troubled”.
“Responses to modern slavery and human trafficking across the world remain weak with victims remaining unidentified and without support,” Kevin Hyland, the Santa Marta Group’s senior adviser, told The Catholic Universe. “Meanwhile criminals operate with impunity making $150bn annual profit from human trafficking.
“A recent report by the US State Department Trafficking in Persons Office revealed globally that only one in 2,150 victims saw their perpetrator convicted. The criminals are winning,” he warned.
Mr Hyland, who served as the UK’s first Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner from 2015 to 2018, said the framework “remains troubled, failing to meet the needs of victims and provide protection mandated through international agreements”.
Mr Hyland pointed out that one of the major barriers is that a victim needs to sign consent forms and then convince a ‘competent authority’ that they are a victim of an offence that holds life imprisonment.
“When police interview vulnerable victims there is a code of practice, a policy guidance and accredited training along with redress through complaints procedures. This is not the case when the Home Office conduct interviews of the same vulnerable people.”
He also pointed out that while 10,600 cases were referred to the UK National Referral Mechanism in 2019, “only 750 were confirmed as victims so perhaps it is time for its competence to be assessed”.
He pointed out that investigating serious crimes and supporting vulnerable victims takes a wide range of co-ordinated expertise.
“All too often when responding to modern slavery training is ad hoc, responses vary and the skills and resources necessary to counter this serious criminality are not commensurate to the challenge,” he said.
Mr Hyland also revealed that while Covid-19 has made things worse, it has also “acted as a catalyst to expose failings and reveal what many have known or reported for years”.
“Change is needed and to do this will take all organisations, statutory and non-government, to examine their own services and delivery,” he said.
“The NRM needs to be reviewed so law enforcement agencies take more responsibility of the process, as is the case with other crimes of abuse where multiagency partners play their part.
Following initiatives by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, the Santa Marta Group first met in Rome during April 2014 when police chiefs and Catholic bishops came together, in the presence of Pope Francis, to sign an historic declaration, committing themselves to a partnership to eliminate human trafficking.
Picture: Kevin Hyland. (Brian Lawless/PA).