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Why this year’s UN General Assembly meeting needs to prioritise tackling trafficking and modern slavery

by Mike Adamson | British Red Cross Society - UK
Wednesday, 26 September 2018 11:17 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: President Sauli Niinisto of Finland addresses attendees during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York, September 29, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

As leaders from around the globe come together this week it is imperative that tackling trafficking and modern slavery remain at the forefront of the debate

As leaders from around the globe come together this week to debate some of the most important international issues of our time, it is imperative that tackling trafficking and modern slavery, a human rights abuse affecting all UN member states, remains at the forefront of discussions.

Over the past year, 68 countries have come together to back the Call to Action, committing to ending forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking by 2030. This year’s UN General Assembly is an opportunity to take stock of progress and ensure that discussion is leading to action.

British Red Cross plays a leading role in providing support to people who have been trafficked, both in the UK and internationally. As part of our work, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement supports people on the move around the globe, we bear witness to the significant needs and vulnerabilities experienced by survivors of trafficking.

Each day we see people who are too afraid to report what they have been through for fear of deportation, and forced to go without any kind of physical or emotional support to help them cope with the enormous trauma they have faced. This needs to change.

Trafficked people should never be criminalised, and should first and foremost be recognised as survivors, and provided with the support and protection they need to recover, regardless of their migration status. It is crucial that this includes psychological support and access to justice and safe reporting without fear of detention, deportation or penalty.

The UK government has been playing a significant role in moving forward international coordination on trafficking, including through the Call to Action. Most recently the UK has played a key role in the drafting of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration – to be adopted this December –strengthening provisions relating to the protection and assistance of trafficked people.

Now is the time to turn these commitments into action. The UK must continue to lead international cooperation on this agenda, pushing to turn these important policy developments into reality.

In driving forward this agenda, the UK needs to lead by example. The adoption of the Global Compact for Migration in December provides the UK government with an important opportunity to commit to implementing policies that will guarantee better protection for trafficked people at home.

We would like to see the UK government grant leave to remain of at least 12 months to people who have been trafficked – this, and other forms of humanitarian protection, could help to reduce the risk of re-trafficking, which we know is a particular issue facing women, children and young adults.

However, providing assistance and protection to survivors is not enough. In order to truly move towards a world free from trafficking and modern slavery, global leaders must address the root causes which are making people around the world vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation in the first place.

The UK Government could show commitment to this by providing more safe and legal routes to sanctuary, such as widening family reunion rules. The British Red Cross has, for some time now, been encouraging the government to widen refugee family reunion rules, including by allowing child refugees living in the UK to sponsor their parents to join them. This could help to prevent people being forced to take dangerous and potentially exploitative journeys to reach their family members.

The UN General Assembly provides a platform for the UK government to renew their focus on tackling trafficking and modern slavery and to reflect on policies, like these, that will put the humanitarian needs of trafficked people at their core. Now is the time for discussion to result in real action that will change vulnerable lives for the better.