The UK has recorded its highest-ever number of human-trafficking referrals, with figures surging by a third over the past year, The Guardian reported.
About 90% of the referrals — which allow civil servants to report suspected trafficking crimes through the National Referral Mechanism — are believed to focus on the alleged victims of people smugglers.
From April to June this year, 4,171 cases were reported to the NRM, which was established in 2009. About half of the cases involved people being exploited in the UK. Of that figure, more than 1,000 cases involved people who refused to take any further action, including many who are alleged victims of labour and sexual exploitation.
The three biggest groups by nationality represented in the figures were Albanians, Britons and Eritreans, respectively.
The UK Home Office has set its sights on Albanian people smugglers as a key target. Offenders as well as asylum seekers were recently sent back to Albania on a deportation flight.
But campaigners and charities have warned that the NRM fails to offer adequate support for the victims of trafficking.
“We are worried to see a rise in recorded modern slavery cases at a time when the circumstances of so many survivors seems uncertain,” said Maya Esslemont of After Exploitation, which examines government data to monitor trafficking trends.
“Since the Nationality and Borders Act was brought into force, survivors no longer have a guarantee of support even if they are recognized as trafficking survivors by the Home Office’s own decision-makers.
“Today’s figures show just how urgently this government needs to step up and address the long-term challenges facing each of the victims recognized as an NRM statistic.”
Iryna Pona, policy and impact manager at The Children’s Society, said: “The record numbers of referrals show what huge problems modern slavery and exploitation are for all children, whether they are British or migrant children trafficked to the UK.
“More than a third are suspected to have been groomed and coerced — usually with terrifying threats — to commit crime, which can include carrying drugs … while scores more are believed to be victims of sexual exploitation.
“Children who are forcibly trafficked here from abroad — or offered an escape from war or persecution by being sold a dream of a new life of hope — are also often made to work in places like cannabis farms, car washes and nail bars, or forced to beg.” (Source: Arab News)