Airport security has come under intense public scrutiny in recent weeks. President Trump’s travel ban on nationals travelling from 7 predominately Muslim countries has provoked global outrage. Following an over-turning of the ban and assurances from Mr Trump that a repeat executive order is imminent, border security staff remain at the epicentre of the unravelling story.
If the US President believes that border control measures are key to its national security, how are Britain’s borders helping to address modern slavery, which Teresa May calls “the great human rights issue of our time”? 94% of modern slavery victims come from outside the UK, making immigration procedures vital to the identification of victims and their perpetrators.
Some startling figures emerged recently in a joint report by David Bolt, the chief inspector of borders, and Kevin Hyland, the anti-slavery commissioner. They reported that there were “3,266 potential victims in 2015… Yet Border Force identified just 265 potential victims at the border during six months last year and only 57 of them were given official help.”
Just one trafficker was convicted last year – emphasising a vast missed opportunity to tackle the issue of modern slavery in Britain one of the earliest stages. With even higher net migration as a result of the Syrian refugee crises – some of whom we know to be victims of slavery – the numbers of identified victims and criminal should be increasing rather than decreasing.
The plight of children is even more concerning. A report from the European commission revealed that almost 96,000 unaccompanied children claimed asylum in Europe in 2015, at least 10,000 unaccompanied children have dropped off the radar of official agencies since arriving in Europe.
When it comes to spotting signs of modern slavery, it can sometimes be very difficult to detect anomalies in the behaviour of people moving through airports.
The report by Bolt and Hyland said considerable efforts had been made to train staff in tackling trafficking, but some officers told inspectors they had completed the mandatory training as a box-checking exercise and saw their priority as moving queues at the borders quickly.
It acknowledged frontline officers faced a difficult task, but said the force had to make urgent changes to meet its responsibility to lead anti-slavery efforts at the border.
It seems stronger collaboration between the UK government’s Cabinet and its border control authorities is necessary to step up the fight against modern slavery.