UK anti-trafficking measures 'not fit for purpose'
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The UK's new anti-trafficking measures are 'not fit for purpose' and the government is breaching its obligations under the European Convention against Trafficking, said a coalition of British human rights organisations as it published a new report funded by Comic Relief and Trust for London.
The report, the first major study of the government's anti-trafficking measures since they launched 14 months ago, found that the government's flagship National Referral Mechanism is 'flawed' and possibly discriminatory, and operated by 'minimally-trained' UK Border Agency staff who 'put more emphasis on the immigration status of the presumed trafficked persons, rather than the alleged crime against them.'
The 167-page report," Wrong kind of victim?", by the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group, a coalition including Anti-Slavery International, Amnesty International UK and ECPAT UK, reviewed 390 individual cases, as well as data from the UK Human Trafficking Centre and figures obtained from freedom of information requests. It found marked disparities in the successful identification of trafficking victims, leading to fears that officials are overly concerned with immigration issues rather than assisting the victims of traumatic crimes, including sexual exploitation and forced labour.
Campaigners say there is clear evidence that criminals are even controlling their victims by warning that they will be seen as "illegal immigrants" not victims, and would be subject to detention and removed from the country or even imprisoned.
The report also criticises Border Agency staff for decision-making showing little understanding of trafficking issues. In one case a West African woman in her twenties was told that though her "experiences" of being forced to have sex with strange men were "extremely unpleasant", this did "not amount to trafficking" because she had failed to escape her tormentors when she had the opportunity.
In another case, a woman who for three months was forced to work 18-hour days as a domestic worker was told by officials that because this had happened in 2008 she should now have "overcome any trauma" she had suffered.
The report argues that the government has lost sight of the key pillars of anti-trafficking - identification, protection, prosecution and prevention - with 'no meaningful' prevention measures being undertaken and prosecutions of traffickers apparently losing out to prosecutions of possible victims for offences committed under duress (including children who had been forced to work in brothels or cannabis "factories"). In the nine months to January 2010, for example, only 36 individuals had trafficking offences brought to court, despite the government estimating that some 5,000 trafficked people are currently in the UK. Police officers quoted by the report complain of the "negative effect" of decision-making which can prevent victims assisting with prosecutions. Campaigners are warning that one consequence of the system's failings is that vital intelligence about the activities of trafficking gangs is being lost to the police and other agencies.