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Focus of government’s new trafficking strategy will not help victims

The Government’s new anti-trafficking strategy places too much emphasis on border control and not enough on victim protection, says a coalition of charities.

Despite the positive step by the Government to agree to opt in to the EU Trafficking Directive earlier this year, ECPAT UK, Anti-Slavery International and Stop the Traffik are worried that the new strategy does not contain the necessary details to offer effective protection for trafficked people. In particular, the Government strategy has failed to address the complex nature of child trafficking and the fact that many of the perpetrators of violence and sexual abuse are already living here in the UK. The proposed awareness raising campaigns in ‘source’ countries are likely to be ineffectual and the lack of a guardianship scheme will mean trafficked children remain vulnerable.  

Christine Beddoe, Director of ECPAT UK, said: “The strategy is no more than a Ministerial statement; it does not contain any commitment to funding or to how it will provide the essential, special protection measures needed to safeguard children who may be trafficked, specifically safe accommodation and guardianship. Nowhere in the strategy does it refer to the additional measures needed to protect children from being trafficked out of the UK, an increasing area of concern with the UK as a known transit country. Children will remain in the shadows unless we have a dedicated child trafficking action plan.”

Earlier this month, Anthony Harrison was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment for trafficking Nigerian girls from the UK to Spain and Italy for sexual exploitation. During the Metropolitan Police investigation it was uncovered that the girls had been controlled through the use of juju and ritual abuse and were moved into Local Authority care, only then to be taken away and moved out of the country. These complex child abuse cases require specialist teams and long-term support, including someone who the child can trust and who will work in their best interests. ECPAT UK is calling on the Government to introduce a system of guardianship for trafficked children, a special protection measure within the European Directive. The Government has refused to progress this recommendation even though it has been widely supported across Parliament with almost 100 Members of Parliament from all parties signing an Early Day Motion on the issue.

Dr Aidan McQuade, Director of Anti-Slavery International, said: “While well intentioned, this strategy is too narrowly focused. There is some proposed action for countries of origin, which is welcome but insufficient. Much more concerted effort needs to be made to eradicate the factors of discrimination and social exclusion that render so many people vulnerable to trafficking. Within the UK the cornerstone of any anti-trafficking strategy should be to make trafficking a low-profit, high-risk crime.  We need to ensure that it is the traffickers, not their victims, who are punished. As practiced until now UK policy has resulted in victims being arrested and deported, rather than protected and given the opportunity to support police with their investigations. The Government must also recognise that many people who are trafficked to the UK enter the country legally. With the Olympics only a year away, which will increase the number of people visiting on tourist visas, the focus on border control in this strategy will not do anything to help people trafficked with such visas.

Steve Chalke MBE, founder of the charity Stop the Traffik and UN.GIFT Special Advisor on Community Action against Human Trafficking, said: “The Government’s immigration-dominated focus on addressing the symptoms and not the causes of the trade in human beings will do little to stem the tide. It could also increase the vulnerability of the men, women, and children who are trafficked into the UK and exploited by concentrating more on their immigration status than on their position as victims of a horrible crime. Human trafficking is a human rights abuse, not an immigration offence. Police and border actions against the criminals are key, but unless there is a coordinated strategy to prevent human trafficking occurring in the first place, these efforts will be no more than sticking plasters. This new Government strategy is a missed opportunity."

Media contact: Christine Beddoe, 07906 341 889

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