Wednesday, 18th March 2020

The uncertainty of coronavirus has seen the UK forced to adapt to new social conditions. But it is having a particularly devastating impact on young victims of trafficking who are losing access to essential services and social contact.

With the UK taking unprecedented measures to prevent the spread of the virus, ECPAT UK is concerned for trafficked young people experiencing new extremes of social isolation. Essential frontline services for survivors are struggling to remain operational as staff work from home, while specialist accommodation services close their doors to new arrivals due to fears of contracting Covid-19. This has left some young people at high risk of homelessness.

Equally, current travel restrictions and limitations on social contact are having a detrimental impact on our youth group members’ mental health and wellbeing. In particular, we are supporting young people who have been re-traumatised by social isolation, a trigger for memories of restriction of movement during situations of exploitation.  

Our youth groups provide a stable community for many victims of child trafficking who have no other support network in the UK. Due to the risks of spreading Covid-19, we have taken the decision to temporarily halt our weekly support sessions. However, safeguarding these vulnerable young people remains our priority and we are taking the following measures to support them:                  

  • Adapting our services and developing individual support plans for each youth group member, so they continue to receive the social and practical support they need
  • Linking young people to local support groups to prevent isolation and re-trafficking
  • Instituting home working to protect our young people and vulnerable community members from the virus
  • Postponing our training sessions for professionals until it is safe to hold them again

Additionally, we’re working alongside other organisations to make sure the government responds to this crisis appropriately for those who are most vulnerable – including victims of trafficking and other migrants who experience difficulty accessing healthcare under the hostile environment.

Alongside nearly 40 human rights organisations, we sent an open letter to the Home Secretary calling for an end to policies such as healthcare charges and data sharing between the NHS and immigration enforcement, both of which prevent migrants from accessing the healthcare they need.

Batseba Asefaw, manager of ECPAT UK’s youth programme, said

‘We are doing everything we can to provide stability and support to young people through this period, but as they lose access to their therapist, their key workers and the support system they have at ECPAT UK’s youth groups, many are really struggling.

‘We’re also concerned as important Home Office interviews and immigration decisions are delayed, intensifying the sense of limbo young people feel. This is a mental health crisis that risks sending young victims of trafficking into a place where they are more vulnerable than ever to those who seek to exploit them.’

ECPAT UK is reliant on voluntary donations to survive. As we enter this period of uncertainty, we are seeing our training courses being cancelled and funding decisions postponed. We need your support now to help us deliver our vital services through the challenging time ahead. This is why we’re asking you to please consider making a donation of £10 or whatever you can afford.


Press contact

Sinead Geoghegan, Communications and Media Manager, ECPAT UK, [email protected]