The Illegal Migration Act 2023

With only one more day until the Illegal Migration Act goes live we thought we would look afresh at the inevitable detrimental impact the changes in law are about to have on survivors of trafficking.  

Here’s a refresh on the act itself:  

  • The Illegal Migration Act is a legislative approach to tackling irregular migration.  
  • There are existing non-legislative approaches in place, such as a collaborative approach with France to tackle irregular migration.  
  • The Illegal Migration Bill was introduced on the 7th March 2023 and on the 20th July it received Royal Assent and is now due to go live 28th September.  
  • The intention is to detain and remove arrivals who have travelled through a safe third-party country, irrespective of whether they are seeking asylum or are victims of modern-day slavery.  
  • This includes those who have entered:  
  • Using false documents  
  • Have entered without documents  
  • Have used genuine documents which have been fraudulently obtained  
  • Enter using valid visas (such as tourist) and then claim asylum upon arrival as this is considered to be deceptive use of visas 
  • Those who will not be impacted by this legislation include: 
  • Entrants who have entered on a temporary visa (e.g. student) and conditions have deteriorated in their country of origin during their duration of stay 
  • Visa overstayers who have entered via legal means 
  • The Illegal Migration Act will be retroactive so will be applicable to those entrants from the 7th March 2023 onwards.  
  • Appeals will be considered where there is considered serious and irreversible harm.  

Barriers to implementation are likely to include:  

  • There is limited detention capacity in this country (and possibly in those identified safe countries, namely Rwanda)  
  • Removal location – Rwanda was considered to be unlawful, whether this will be overturned is undetermined  
  • Will likely result in a downturn in the number of asylum claims being processed as under the Illegal Migration Act many will be unable to claim asylum  
  • Those ‘engaging’ with police could be considered an exception for deportation – however there is a lack of clarity around what this actually means  


Now that this bill is becoming law, it will create a system in which victims of trafficking and modern slavery who arrive in the UK irregularly would not only be banned from accessing vital support but detained on arrival without consideration and no clear way to appeal or path to reconsideration.  

It reduces the ability of trafficking victims to claim asylum. For many victims of trafficking, asylum is the most secure way for them to confirm their entitlement to be in the UK while they receive the support they need to recover. Instead of embarking on this process, they will be detained and deported.  

This Bill has the potential to increase the risk of trafficking for those who have already been trafficked, as well as individuals at high risk of trafficking.   

This will be the same for survivors who arrived in the UK on 7th March 2023 or after. 

Tamar has recently supported three survivors of sex trafficking who have approached the services and bravely asked for help, despite the uncertainty and apprehension they were experiencing with regards to their rights to support. Two of these survivors were referred to First Responders for assessment and referral to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM)**. The Tamar team was able to encourage and reassure them of their rights to support and they have benefited from the NRM process so far. They have experienced no judgement or threat of removal from the country and they are living in safe places that they now call home. They are on their journey to recovery.   

If these ladies had asked for help after September 28th 2023, they would not have received the support and fair treatment that they have.  

Our fear is that Tamar will now experience fewer and fewer survivors reaching out for help. Instead of bravely stepping forward and acknowledging that what has happened to them is illegal and wrong, and that they deserve to live safely, they will live in fear and shame, hiding from help, enduring another form of slavery.  

Our fear is that survivors of sex trafficking will now have the vital support outlined in the Modern Slavery Act stripped away from them, like so much else has been stripped away from them due to the horrors, loss and trauma they have endured. Survivors will be unable to access the support system that facilitates their recovery and it will make it easier for traffickers to get away with their crimes.  

Such sentiments are mirrored by former Prime Minister Theresa May, speaking in the House of Commons said “I would say this is a slap in the face to those of us who actually care about the victims of modern slavery…it also suggests that those dealing with this bill simply do not understand the nature of these crimes.” 

Let’s think about ‘Zara’… 

*Zara’s experience  

Zara was sex trafficked as a teenager from an African country, to the UK. She was told by traffickers that she would have a well-paid cleaning job in the UK. When she arrived in the UK, her documents were removed by the traffickers and she was left in a hotel to be raped continually. When Zara finally managed to escape, she hid. She was terrified that the traffickers or the police would find her. She began sleeping on the streets and doing cash in hand jobs, being continually approached by people wanting to sexually exploit and abuse her.  

Many years later, she was referred to Tamar by a food bank service. The Tamar team met with Zara and explained to her about the National Referral Mechanism. She had never heard of it. She said she wasn’t sure she could receive help, because she is most likely here illegally due to how she was trafficked here, and she doesn’t have any documents or identification. The Tamar team explained that this most likely wouldn’t be an issue. She was worthy of support, she was a survivor of sex trafficking, and she deserved a safe life.  

Within a couple of days, the NRM referral was made, Zara was assessed, and her case was deemed urgent as she was destitute. She was allocated a First Responder and her application was taken forward. She answered their questions and her answers were believed, with no demand for evidence or identification which she did not have. Fast forward a couple of months, Zara had been moved to a new, safe area in the UK and had a place she could call home. She was finally able to settle, not having to hide from her traffickers or anyone else. She is proud and hopeful again. The response Zara received was empathic, humane and dignified.  

This happened in October 2022.  

If Zara had not asked for help for another year, her story could have been very different. She could have been detained, deported back to her country of origin which she was trafficked from, or removed to an entirely different location such as Rwanda. She would not have received support from the NRM. She would have been considered illegal. She would have been judged, shamed and enslaved further.  

As the UN’s refugee agency warned, this Bill would not only breach the UK’s obligations under international law but would be an effective ban on asylum. And this Bill affects all of us. It is an assault on human rights for everyone in the UK and weakens protections against abuse for all people. 

Azalea stands with survivors of sex trafficking and everyone working to protect their rights to safety and recovery.  

Tamar will continue to do its utmost to advocate with and on behalf of survivors of sex trafficking.  

*Pseudonym used throughout 

** The National Referral Mechanism is the UK Government’s framework for identifying, referring, supporting and protecting victim/survivorss of human trafficking and modern slavery. 

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