Press release

Human trafficking gangs targeted by UK government

Gangs that lure victims to the UK and then exploit them for sex, labour and domestic slavery are being targeted following action by the government.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A report published today by the inter-departmental ministerial group (IDMG) on human trafficking shows that more work than ever before is being carried out both in the UK and internationally to prosecute criminals and stop trafficking gangs in their tracks.
Organised criminal gangs within countries including China, Nigeria, Vietnam, Slovakia and Romania now pose the greatest threat to the UK. However, co-ordinated action between the UK and these countries is proving effective. This includes:

  • intelligence sharing with overseas police forces;
  • lobbying governments to ratify the UN convention against transnational; organised crime;
  • raising awareness about trafficking through local media in source countries.

The government is also working with these countries to tackle the problem at its source by lobbying for changes to countries’ laws. UK prosecutors from the crown prosecution service’s international team are based in priority countries to improve their criminal justice response to traffickers, train judges, prosecutors and investigators to deal with offences more effectively, and gather evidence and support for prosecutions in the UK.

Immigration Minister and chair of the IDMG Mark Harper said:

‘Human trafficking is abhorrent and the UK government is committed to combating this crime in all its forms.

‘We have already made significant progress in the fight against trafficking but the government is not complacent and we will continue to work to improve and strengthen our approach to keep pace with emerging threats.

‘From next year the national crime agency will build on existing work to combat trafficking by using its enhanced crime fighting and intelligence capabilities to target criminal gangs.’

The IDMG report shows that during the past two years, thousands of front-line professionals, including border staff, police and healthcare staff, have been trained to better identify, support and protect vulnerable individuals who may be suffering abuse at the hands of traffickers. Victim profiles have been developed and given to border staff, and a human trafficking intelligence and victim referral map with guidance has been issued to all border staff.
Airlines including virgin atlantic and thomas cook are training cabin crew to identify those who may be engaged in trafficking and their potential victims. A 24-hour confidential phone line has been set up for crew to report concerns to border force before a plane lands in the UK. The government is working with other UK-based airlines to encourage them to sign up. There is also ongoing work with other key industries including hotels and hospitality to raise awareness of trafficking.

The government has ensured that victims of trafficking who are identified are given the support they need through access to a 45-day recovery period. This includes access to safe house accommodation, signposting to domestic services including legal and housing advice and the development of a support plan which will enable victims to be located away from high-risk areas or to return home to their country of origin.

While local authorities have a statutory duty to look after child victims, the government is working with the office of the children’s commissioner for England to examine the practical care arrangements for trafficked children. Good working by local authorities to maintain confidentiality around placements and limiting visits by adults who have not been formally assessed or vetted is being promoted to other authorities.

Police and prosecutors are also working together to identify tactics on child sexual exploitation cases and ensure young victims are fully supported throughout the criminal justice process. Teachers, charities and police across the world are raising awareness of child trafficking with the aid of UK made videos and educational support programmes.

Notes to editors

1. The IDMG report shows that while adult victims are being exploited for sex, labour and domestic servitude there has been an increase in the number of children being forced into crime, including street begging. The UK has also recently encountered its first organ harvesting cases with one involving the planned sale of a victim’s kidneys.

2. In 2011, 946 potential victims of human trafficking were referred to the national referral mechanism (NRM*). Of these 712 were adults and 234 children. This compares to 710 referrals in 2010 of which 524 were adults and 186 were minors. The child exploitation and online protection centre (CEOP) estimates that there are approximately 300 child trafficking victims in the UK per annum.

*   The NRM was introduced in 2009 to meet the UK’s obligations under the council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings. The national referral mechanism (NRM) is a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and ensuring they receive the appropriate protection and support.

3. A breakdown of referrals by UK police region shows that the majority of referrals to the NRM come from the London area (see below).

Police region / Country of presentation total
East Midlands 17
Eastern 67
London 258
North East 132
North West 81
South East 86
South West 28
West Midlands 50
Wales 78
Northern Ireland 24
Scotland 32
Not recorded 78

Total 946

4. The most prevalent source countries for potential victims who were referred to the NRM were Nigeria, China, Vietnam, Romania and Slovakia. The most prevalent exploitation type recorded through the NRM for adults was sexual exploitation however it is recognised that the incidence of labour exploitation and criminal exploitation (i.e. begging) is increasing. The most prevalent form of exploitation reported for children was labour.

5. By far the largest number of referrals of potential victims of trafficking are now Nigerian nationals with a significant number of referrals from Chinese and Vietnamese nationals. The largest number of referrals within Europe came from Romanian nationals. Nigerian victims are almost exclusively females who are subjected to sexual exploitation and domestic servitude. Vietnamese victims are predominantly males exploited for labour and females for sexual exploitation. Romanian and Chinese victims are generally exploited for adult labour and sexual exploitation.

England Wales Scotland Northern Ireland
1 Nigeria Nigeria Romania UK
2 China Uganda Czech Republic Ghana
3 Vietnam Vietnam Slovakia China

6. In the UK clear exploitation types and locations were seen with some nationalities. The majority of victims from Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia were reported to have been exploited in a factory. The majority of victims forced to work in agriculture were from Romania and the most prevalent countries for people being forced to work in restaurants were China and Bulgaria. The majority of people being exploited in the food processing industry were from the Czech Republic.

7. There are currently estimated to be 92 organised crime groups in the UK known to have an involvement in human trafficking. The largest number of these groups involved in the exploitation of people for profit are from Romania. The majority of potential victims from the EEA enter the UK legally and are entitled to work in the UK. They are mainly unskilled workers from the former Eastern Bloc states and are increasingly recruited through bogus job advertisement.

8. There were 142 defendants charged with offences related to human trafficking in 2011/12.

9. A full copy of the IDMG report can be found at

10. For media enquiries including bids for interviews with the immigration minister, contact the home office press office on 020 7035 3535.

Published 18 October 2012