A Blind Eye on Trafficking- the Government’s stand

February 11th 2011- The Independent on Sunday last week highlighted the higher risk that trafficked victims will face due to the Government’s woeful misunderstanding of the seriousness of trafficking in the UK, which will also be exacerbated by the Olympic Games. Additionally, the Government seems to ignore the rife exploitation of young girls by UK nationals (Home Grown Trafficking 21/1/2011 – http://sharonbenningprince.com/articles-events/home-grown-trafficking/)

The Independent on Sunday is Campaigning to persuade the Government to sign up to the EU directive on human trafficking. The directive will strengthen the laws to protect victims and prosecute those who enslave them- www.38degrees.org/uk/stoptrafficking. The Article from the Independent on Sunday provides damning commentary on the Government’s position as set forth below:

Leading experts they say policies aimed at targeting criminal gangs that smuggle people into the country – and protecting victims that escape from them – are to be scrapped by the Government.

Senior Liberal Democrats have broken ranks to demand ministers sign an EU directive on human trafficking which offers more protection to victims and comes into law later this month. An Independent on Sunday petition urging the Government to sign the directive has more than 20,000 signatures, but the Conservatives are resisting it.

Some 4,000 people, mostly women, are brought into the UK each year to work in the sex trade. Many more – including hundreds of children – are smuggled into the country to be exploited as domestic servants, farm hands or drug cultivators. Now several specialist policing and investigative units aimed at tackling these crimes are threatened with closure or have already been shut.

The Gang Masters Licensing Authority, which investigates unlawful labor in agriculture and recently found Romanian children as young as nine working in fields, is facing closure. An attempt to save the authority was made last week when an amendment to the Public Bodies Bill was tabled in the Lords. The Metropolitan Police’s Human Trafficking Unit and Operation Golf, focusing on child trafficking, are closed. The government-funded Human Trafficking Centre has been absorbed into the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which is itself being wound up. The Poppy Project, which provides shelter for trafficked women, is also under threat. The Government has put its contract out for tender, asking for a less specialist service to be provided at 60 per cent of the cost.

The Border Agency’s “reflection” time for deciding whether a person is trafficked or not is proposed to be reduced from 45 to 30 days, which experts say will put pressure on victims and make correct decisions less likely. In the EU, only Greece and Bulgaria have a time frame this short. In Italy, for example, it is six months.

Despite the new EU directive against trafficking being voted in by almost all UK MEPs – including Tories – it has not been adopted in Britain. Downing Street remains opposed to signing up to new measures on principle, with right-wing Conservative backbenchers keen to reassert their Eurosceptic credentials. A new formal process for the Government to assess EU directives has been established, with Tories seeking to persuade their coalition partners that the Home Office is already meeting – or exceeding – the demands from Brussels on human trafficking.

However, senior Lib Dems – including ministers who are privately pressing for it – believe signing it would be a major victory for their campaign to place civil liberties and human rights at the heart of the Government. Tom Brake, Lib Dem home affairs spokesman, said: “The European Union has bent over backwards to accommodate the British Government’s concerns. I can see no reason why not to sign up to the directive. It would make a clear statement of the Government’s support for trafficked women and its willingness to provide protection and secure convictions. I hope we will be signing on the dotted line as soon as possible.”

Speaking at a national conference on human trafficking on Wednesday, shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper will condemn the coalition for letting Euroscepticism colour its decision not to sign the directive. She said: “The Olympic Games, dismantling of the UK Human Trafficking Centre and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and the deep cuts to voluntary groups will all make ending trafficking of vulnerable women and girls a greater challenge. That’s why the Government should back tough new measures and Europe-wide action. David Cameron must stop pandering to anti-European prejudices in some parts of his party and sign the directive.”

David Cameron partly justified the coalition’s refusal to sign by saying the Government was already compliant with the directive. However, according to a report from Care to be published tomorrow, the UK does not comply with many of its requirements. The study found that Britain was inadequate in its support for child victims. (Children) It says the country is also not compliant because it ignores forced begging as trafficking; cannot prosecute crimes outside Britain; fails to provide universal access to safe accommodation and medical treatment for victims; fails to investigate cases after a victim withdraws statement and does not offer proper protection of victims in criminal proceedings.

This week, charities and support agencies will be consulted for the first time over the Government’s trafficking policy, which is to be announced at the end of the month. They say this is tokenism as it is understood the decisions have all been taken. The Home Office has stopped a monthly forum that used to bring officials and NGOs together. A Home Office spokesperson said: “Combating human trafficking is a key government priority. We have already outlined our strategy to tackle trafficking, and with the new National Crime Agency will redouble our efforts to end this brutal form of organised crime.” [i]


[i] Article from the Independent on Sunday 6th February 2011