Global maritime network Stella Maris is reiterating calls for the immediate end to the practice of using transit visa to bring migrants into the United Kingdom to work on fishing vessels.
The international charity says the government needs to act quickly to ensure that migrant fishers are offered the same legal rights and protection that foreign seafarers and migrant workers receive.
Stella Maris’ intervention comes as new figures released last week by the International Labour Organization (ILO) indicate there are 50 million people in situations of modern slavery on any given day. This number translates to nearly one of every 150 people in the world.
The 2021 Global Estimates Report also noted that migrant workers are more than three times more likely to be in forced labour than non-migrant adult workers.
Although most migration is voluntary and has a largely positive impact on individuals and societies, the global estimates indicate that when migrants are not protected by law or are unable to exercise their rights they can be at increased risk of forced labour and human trafficking, the Report said.
National policy and legal frameworks that promote respect for the rights of all migrants at all stages of the migration process, regardless of their migration status, are urgently needed, the ILO said.
Transit visas are designed for seafarers transiting through the UK to reach their departing ship and are therefore unsuitable for fishers based wholly or partly in the UK as they reduce their basic labour protections in respect of pay and working hours.
Martin Foley, Stella Maris CEO, said: “We urge the UK government to act to prevent the use of transit visas to bring foreign nationals to work in the UK fishing industry. Instead, the government should act to ensure that migrant workers in fishing are afforded the social and labour protections available to others working within the UK.”
Martin said that transit visas could also trigger further injustice for fishers who have been subjected to abuse and may be possible victims of modern slavery. When they seek protection and support from the authorities, they enter the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) so that their allegations and circumstances can be assessed, and a decision made as to whether they should be granted discretionary leave to remain in the UK whilst an investigation takes place.
Fishers in the NRM who arrived into the UK on transit visas have no right to work, so are unable to undertake any form of paid employment during the period they are in the NRM.
Due to the sheer number of suspected cases of modern slavery in the UK, the average wait time in the NRM is approximately two years. The denial of the right to work to these fishers strips them of their dignity, compounding the pressure they are under.
“Modern slavery isn’t just a problem that is happening ‘somewhere else’; it is on our doorstep. Stella Maris is often the first responder in these cases, supporting seafarers and fishers who have become victims of modern slavery,” said Martin.
“Stella Maris is committed to fighting trafficking in the fishing industry and is actively involved in assisting fishers who are in danger of being exploited and abused by unscrupulous owners by providing practical support and spiritual and material assistance to the fishers and their families,” he said.
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