Trafficking victims traumatised following Home Office delays on their status

Labour Party

A Guardian investigation has found that victims of modern slavery are being further traumatised caused by Home Office delays to confirm their status.

While the Government has stated that decisions on the legal status of such victims should be made within a 45-day recovery period under its programme, the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) the time guideline is not being met, the newspaper claims. However, The Guardian has learnt of people waiting more than six months for the visa and immigration authorities to process their cases. In one incident six West African men who were rescued by British trawlers in 2017 were still waiting to find out their fate in 2018. Interestingly, shortly following the Guardian had begun to make inquiries on the reason for the delay all six men were granted leave to remain.

This sort of delay is unacceptable and a period of limbo of this length while living, often in emergency accommodation, will inevitably increase anxiety for those who are in an already traumatic situation. We know delays in processes are common, a fact highlighted last year by report from the National Audit Office which was highly critical of the time it was taking to process victims.

Theresa May has stated that eradicating modern slavery and trafficking was a priority as both home secretary and prime minister. However, despite introducing legislation, the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the modern slavery strategy which supports it cannot be fulfilling one of its key obligations as highlighted in its 2104 report.

The report clearly states one of its key components as “Protect: strengthening safeguards against modern slavery by protecting vulnerable people from exploitation and increasing awareness and resilience against this crime.” Protecting victims is a priority and yet delays in processing their status is doing the complete opposite to its promise of protecting victims.

Slavery and trafficking victims need protection and support and not lengthy, complicated and drawn out processes which leave them in limbo for an unsatisfactory length of time. It is not acceptable and Theresa May who has extensive experience of the Home Office should address the issue immediately.

Home Office app for EU Nationals cannot be used on an iPhone

Labour Party

As reported in the Guardian, Home Office officials from the UK met with MEPs yesterday to offer reassurance that functions of a new Home Office app designed for EU nationals seeking to stay in the UK, were sound.

However, in an embarrassing u turn, officials had to concede a major blunder after it was revealed that the user-friendly app will not work on iPhone- a brand that is used by over half the adult population.

Reports suggest that one MEP was told by Home Office staff, who attended the meeting, that anyone who couldn’t access the app (due to owning an iPhone) should simply borrow a friend’s phone and use that instead.

It beggars’ belief that an app designed to be used by more than Three million EU nationals won’t be accessible on a major platform – the most common piece of hardware used globally.

It didn’t stop there-Amber Rudd came under increasing fire for suggesting the app would be as easy to use as “setting up an online account at [the fashion retailer] LK Bennett” – claiming it had been “extensively tested”. However, officials at yesterdays meeting admitted that mass testing of the app had yet to begin.

And further problems could occur after officials stated that 1000 call centre case workers would be needed to help EU citizens, but the recruitment process has not even started.

There is also concern surrounding the cost of registering, which at £72 per person is unquestionably expensive for most families. In addition, the requirements expect every member of a family to apply individually for settled status.

Following the dreadful treatment in the UK of the Windrush generation there is renewed anxiety the Government may not get this right. But this is precisely why it has no room for errors. Any mistakes made today in the construction of the technology (or in any other areas) may well have consequences for many generations of EU citizens to come.


Numbers of reported FGM cases has dramatically increased

Labour Party

Newly released figures for the number of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) cases, in England and Wales, reveal that over 1,000 women have been treated for FGM in just three months by the NHS.

The figures, recorded from April-June this year, found that 1,026 victims were treated, nine of which were girls under the age of 18. The statistics also revealed that 75% of the cases were self-reported.

The figures are likely to increase further because as of 1 June this year reporting suspected cases became mandatory for GP’s, and other stakeholders and healthcare providers.

While a lot of work has been undertaken to raise the profile of this abhorrent crime, particularly within the Home Office and the Department of Education, it is truly shocking that so many cases are still emerging. Nevertheless the work done by these departments’ means that more and more victims are starting to feel confident to seek help.

Despite the emergence of greater numbers of victims, campaigners remain concerned that they still don’t receive enough support, both physically and psychologically.

Mary Wandia, FGM programme manager at the NGO Equality Now, said: “Our figures with City University show that nearly 10,000 girls under 14 living in England or Wales are likely to have undergone FGM. Cases are likely to exist in every single local authority,” she said.

If Equality Now is right then we really are only scratching the surface of this terrible crime. As reporting becomes mandatory I fear the next figures will start to reveal an even greater number of victims.

Although FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985 it remains prevalent in other parts of the world. For example, it is estimated in Africa some three million girls annually undergo FGM.

It is a global problem which we must continue to fight to eradicate. An enormous amount of work is required to achieve this and these figures tell only part of the story.

Coalition Goverment says no to EU Anti-Trafficking Measures

Labour Party

As regular readers of my blog will be aware,  I have written before about the EU’s new human trafficking directive and also ran a campaign against the Metropolitan Police Authorities proposed closure of their specialised unit dealing with this matter.  This issue has never seemed to me to be particularly partisan, it being widely accepted that trafficking causes untold misery and ruins the lives of many, especially women and children.  So I could not believe it when I heard about the coalition government’s plan to ‘opt-out’ of the new directive specifically designed to help combat trafficking.

For me,  and I hope everyone else, the most important aspect of the directive is its focus on protecting the victims of trafficking.  Such protection would mean that people who are trafficked into criminal enterprises in the UK, such as the sex trade or cannabis farming, could not be charged over false immigration papers forced on them by the gang responsible for their move. 

The new directive,  still currently in committee, also looks to create a single EU wide definition of trafficking and allow for the law courts to try people who commit trafficking offences in another EU state.  This is crucial to the combating of trafficking since many of the crimes that help sustain the practice, such as document forgery, kidnapping, intimidation and violence will occur in another country before the victim has reached the UK. 

The directive will allow for trafficking crimes to be prosecuted in UK courts, thereby helping to stop the industry of trafficking as well as bring criminals to justice.  The anti-trafficking measures seem right and proper to me.  However,  a Home Office statement in early August said that there were already ample measures in place to combat trafficking in the UK.  An interesting view since, in June this year, an umbrella group of charities and NGOs released a study saying that the anti-trafficking measures in the UK were woefully inadequate.   

I am not alone in my outrage, with leading charities criticising the decision as well as Denis MacShane writing to Nick Clegg, asking him to persuade the Tories to change their mind. 

It is deeply depressing to think that the Conservatives would make a decision that could have a huge impact on the effectiveness of our police force in combating human trafficking on the basis of the odious and irrational anti-European stance.  David Cameron and William Hague have said that they will not cede powers to the EU without a referendum (though they have already put the lie to that particular promise), so I can’t help but feel that the rejection of a powerful and necessary tool in the fight against such an egregious crime is all part of some pathetic political posturing. The idea we would even have to ask the (supposedly) pro-European Clegg to persuade the Tories to think again on this crucial issue is very, very worrying.

Met plans to scrap Trafficking Unit are a Disgrace

Labour Party

Trafficking PicThe plans announced by the Metropolitan Police to abolish its specialist unit dealing with human traficking – trafficking of women and children – are nothing short of a disgrace.

I woke up to hear this bombshell on the “Today” programme, which we can get in Brussels, this morning hardly able to contain myself.  Trafficking of women is to a large extent trafficking to sell women into prostitution.  These often unsuspecting women are lured away from their homes, frequently on the pretext of a better life elsewhere, only to find themselves totally in thrall to ruthless criminals whose only aim is to exploit them for gain.  It really is a modern form of slavery and should be treated as such.  I hope there will be a major outcry against the Met’s plans so that they are forced to think again.

What is more, the Met trafficking unit has been viewed as an international example of good practice.  It also takes several years to develop expertise into trafficking, expertise which would more than likely be lost if the Met were to disband its unit which has built up a range of knowledge since its inception in 2007.  The nature of the crime also means that those cases which are brought to book are only the tip of the iceberg and if more of the iceberg is to be exposed, specialist expertise is required.

There is, in addition, the matter of the Olympics in London in 2012.  The last football World Cup in Germany attracted thousnads of prostitutes who openly plied their wares as prostitution is legal in Germany.  I was, in fact, one of a number of women who signed a petition to the German Government to outlaw prostitution at the World Cup.  The general view was that a large number, more than likely the majority of those women had been trafficked from outside the host country.  For the sake of the trafficked women, we need to be extremely vigilant to ensure that the same thing does not happen in London in 2012.  It would be a massive tragedy if the Games were marred by any form of criminal element. 

The Labour Government has been very vigilant on the fight to stamp out trafficking.  When I organised my “Tackling Trafficking” conference two years ago, we were joined by the then Home Office Minister, Vernon Coker.  I therefore call on the Met to see sense and keep the trafficking unit.

I have started a petition asking the Met to rethink its plans for shutting this vital unit down. 

Please click here and sign it.

You can also follow my campaign by clicking on my campaigns page.