Taking a ‘leap of faith’ to migrate: exploring UK approaches to anti-human trafficking
Human trafficking is an international phenomenon that has been given more attention by governments, law enforcement, and NGOs as the world has continued to globalise. As a result, numerous combative human trafficking programmes have been developed to address the issue. Documenting trafficking is particularly challenging. The actual process of human trafficking and exploitation remains hidden, despite there being public awareness of the phenomenon. This has presented challenges for anti-human trafficking practitioners, especially regarding victim identification processes. International charities and NGOs perceive the UK government as a global leader in responding to human trafficking, mainly because of the passing of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which was seen as ‘ground- breaking’ legislation. Likewise, the UK government views itself as a global leader and regularly announces its commitment to preventing modern slavery and human trafficking in Parliament and international forums. At the same time, the UK introduced what has come to be known as the ‘hostile environment’ in 2012, a set of policies that demonstrated a commitment to reducing migration, to make life in the UK as difficult as possible for migrants. As a result, potential victims of trafficking and victims of trafficking have been criminalised and denied fundamental human rights. A primary goal of this thesis is to explore the relationship between the UK’s commitments to restrictive migration and the reduction of human trafficking and exploitation. Despite the UK’s commitments to anti-human trafficking and exploitation, the immigration system is not only flawed but has been purposefully designed to make migrants and potential victims of trafficking vulnerable to harm. The UK’s environment for migrants and how this has impacted anti-human trafficking approaches has demonstrated that there is not only a ‘right kind’ of migrant but also a ‘right kind’ of victim. The thesis focuses particularly on the role of migrant decision-making in informing understandings of human trafficking as they relate to anti-human trafficking approaches. In doing so, the thesis draws upon structural violence theory through the lens of risk to examine four anti-human trafficking approaches used in the UK: the organised crime approach, the ‘illegal’ migration approach, the moral side of the human rights approach, and the labour side of the human rights approach. Based on semi-structured interviews with practitioners and hopeful migrants, as well as non-participant observation, the overall argument is that the organised crime, ‘illegal’ migration, and the moral side of the human rights approaches to anti-human trafficking enable the criminalisation of victims and potential victims of trafficking. Thus, this thesis deems these approaches to be ineffective as anti-human trafficking approaches. The thesis argues that the labour side of the human rights approach is the most suitable approach for engaging with the lived experience of potential victims and victims of trafficking, as well as the structural factors that contribute to exploitation. The thesis further argues that all anti- human trafficking approaches would benefit from the knowledge of the role of a ‘leap of faith’ in migrant decision-making when considering victim identification processes. This research has revealed new findings regarding how risk is understood and acted upon by hopeful migrants in their decision-making processes and has contributed unique insight into how the narrative of the ‘ideal victim’ interacts with the UK’s hostile environment. In particular, the thesis’ engagement with the notion of a ‘leap of faith’ contributes to how ‘grey zone’ decision-making plays out in reality, which are decisions that people are forced into due to their experiences of structural violence. This thesis fills a gap within the existing body of literature on anti-human trafficking regarding how definitional discrepancies are practically applied through anti-human trafficking approaches, such as the impact of the coercion/consent debate in practice.