Ntombi is a dancer, musician and asylum seeker who was trafficked to the UK from South Africa. She was detained in Yarl’s Wood in 2015 having been in Holloway Prison before this. Ntombi was in Prison as she was arrested for using someone else’s identity to work as a live-in carer – she felt this was the only way she could survive as she was homeless and living on the streets.  Ntombi is involved in Women for Refugee Women’s #SetHerFree campaign and wants the Home Office to shut down Yarl’s Wood detention centre. Ntombi wants the government to consider the impact the immigration system has on women’s lives.

Focus on Policy

Government Policy on Human Trafficking

Government Policy on Human Trafficking was reviewed in 2011 with the publication of the Human Trafficking Strategy, which highlighted three key areas requiring improvement. These were:

  1. To criminalise acts of human trafficking committed by UK nationals anywhere in the world where the trafficking has no connection with the UK;
  2. Criminalise trafficking for non-sexual exploitation which takes place wholly within the UK’
  3. Correct the unduly lenient sentence regime for non-sexual trafficking

(Report on the Internal Review of Human Trafficking Legislation, 2012)

Alongside this the UK government claims commitment to victim support, focuses on disrupting traffic networks before they leave the UK and aims to increase awareness of child trafficking.

Nevertheless a 2016 report by the Guardian claims Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery is on the rise in the UK with a 245% rise in potential victims being trafficked into the UK. Highlighting more needs to be done to halt the flow of vulnerable individuals falling into this form of exploitation.

Government Policy on refugee’s and Detention Centres

Refugee women are among the most vulnerable groups in the UK. More than 70% of refugee women have experienced violence while living in the UK (Refugee Council, 2012) and they are at a high risk of homelessness and poverty. Under government guidelines asylum seekers are requested to submit an application with evidence to be reviewed, which can often take months. In 2015 1,194 Syrian’s were resettled through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Program. However in the same year 64% of initial asylum applications were refused (migration observatory). While the government claims to offer housing and benefits to those with rejected asylum claims this often only amounts to £35 a week on a so-called Azure card resulting in many women left destitute and at risk of failing into illegal work. Furthermore a lack of gender sensitivity in the asylum process further restricts women’s ability to reach refugee status as they are denied basis requests such as having female interviewers.

The UK has one of the largest networks of detention centres in Europe. Around 32,400 migrants entered detention in 2015 without knowing how long they would be held for. The Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre holds more than 350 detained women and received attention in 2015 for allegations of violence, sexual assault, and negligent healthcare. More than half of women reported feeling unsafe at the centre and there have been repeated calls for its closure.

What needs to be done?

While the government claims to offer an inclusive and fair approach to dealing with asylum seekers it often falls short on many measures. Statistics clearly show that due to the laws in place many illegal workers are too afraid to come forward, instead remaining in exploitative conditions, in order to avoid potential deportation. Women are unfairly disadvantaged in the process of submitting their asylum claims and are at a high risk of experiencing violence and sexual assault with more than 70% of women refugees in the UK claiming to have experienced this. Detention centres, such as Yarl’s Wood do nothing more than exacerbate the issue and waste tax payers money, which could be redirected into progressive aspects of asylum policy. Overall the government needs to do more to assist refugee women by providing better healthcare provisions, ensure basic financial assistance is provided and specialist services are on hand while ensuring women are not disadvantage in the process.

(BBC (2015), Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre of ‘National Concern


Immigration Detention in the UK


(Report on the Internal Review of Human Trafficking Legislation, 2012)

Refugee Council (2012) The Experiences of Refugee Women in the UK,  https://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/assets/0001/5837/Briefing_-_experiences_of_refugee‌_women_in_the_UK.pdf

Reynolds, S. (2010) Your inflexible Friend: The Cost of Living without Cash. http://www.scottishrefugeecouncil.org.uk/assets/0000/0994/Azure_Card_ReportNov2010.pdf