By Magdalena Mis
LONDON, Oct 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Victims of modern slavery hidden in Britain's brothels, farms and private homes must be found and protected, the country's anti-slavery commissioner said on Friday, as he outlined his first action plan to combat the crime.
Kevin Hyland, who took up the new role last year, also said he wanted an increase in conviction rates for those trafficking and exploiting victims of slavery.
"My overarching priority is the victim identification and care because once we focus on the victims we will start to get a richer picture," Hyland told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Up to 13,000 victims of modern-day slavery in Britain are forced to work in factories and farms, sold for sex in brothels or kept in domestic servitude, among other forms of slavery, according to the Home Office (interior ministry).
Most victims come from Albania, Nigeria, Vietnam and Romania.
But in 2014 only 2,340 potential victims were referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), a government scheme for identifying and supporting victims of slavery and trafficking.
And there were only 39 convictions last year for slavery and human trafficking as principal offences, according to Ministry of Justice data.
Hyland, a former senior police officer with 30 years of experience in investigating organised crime, said a significant number of slavery victims remain unidentified and unprotected.
"Even recording isn't happening properly at the moment," he said in an interview ahead of Anti-Slavery Day on Oct. 18. Such failures to record allegations mean that investigations are not instigated, resulting in fewer prosecutions.
Some victims have fled countries where confidence in the rule of law and the authorities is low, said Hyland, which can make them reluctant to come forward in Britain.
"Victims who come here with a promise of a better life and then become exploited, they're going to be fearful of going to the authorities through the previous experience," he said.
Hyland's appointment was a provision of the Modern Slavery Bill, passed in March to crack down on traffickers, clean up supply chains and to bring in measures to protect people feared at risk of being enslaved.
(Reporting by Magdalena Mis; Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)
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