Modern Slavery Bill

Written evidence submitted by Hibiscus Initiatives (MS 31)

Hibiscus Initiatives, formerly FPWP Hibiscus, is a non-governmental organisation providing a wide range of services to BMER (Black & Minority Ethnic and Refugees) and foreign nationals in the community and across the criminal justice system since 1986. As part of our work in the prisons and the detention centres we identify and provide support services and advocacy for victims of trafficking.

Combating trafficking is one of Hibiscus Initiatives' major projects.Through our work in prisons, Hibiscus has come into contact with women and men who have been trafficked to the UK for the purposes of forced criminalization including cannabis production, prostitution, illegal manufacturing and the selling of counterfeit goods. It was in response to these experiences that Hibiscus began work on its anti-trafficking campaign in source countries to raise awareness about the risk of being trafficked to the UK. Our human rights-centered approach to anti-trafficking work is reflected in range of activities which focus on four essential pillars of work:

· Identification, Assistance & Support

· Resettlement & Reintegration

· Prevention & Education.

· Information & Lobbying

Hibiscus Initiatives support the Modern Slavery Bill and would like to use this opportunity to offer our comments on the Bill.

The Anti-Slavery Commissioner

1. Clauses 34-36: We welcome the appointment of an Anti-Slavery Commissioner. We believe that the Anti-Slavery Commissioner should be responsible to Parliament rather than the Secretary of State and have the authority to hold enforcement bodies accountable. Independent monitoring of these agencies’ actions and the authority to challenge the quality of their response is essential. The annual report and any report assessing progress towards ending modern slavery should also be submitted to Parliament and not the Secretary of State. We believe that this will help to maintain the independent status of the commissioner.

Protection of Victims

We welcome the inclusion of the protection of victims’ provision in the Bill. However we feel that measures concerning victims’ protection and support should be strengthened in the Bill in regards to the following points:

2. Clause 39: Defence for slavery or trafficking victims compelled to commit an offence

Based on our experience working with women and men in prisons, we are concerned about the number of victims who have been trafficked for forced criminal exploitation. Therefore, we welcome the provision in clause 39 to ensure the non-prosecution of victims of trafficking. However, we strongly feel that the Bill should ensure that those victims who have received a positive reasonable grounds decision and are awaiting for the conclusive grounds decision shouldn’t be held in prison during deliberation. On occasions, it is the police who make the NRM referral at the time of arrest, nevertheless the potential victims are brought to prison. Based on our experience, potential victims of trafficking remain in prison for a minimum of 3 months before their criminal charges are dropped. We suggest that automatic bail is granted once a positive reasonable grounds decision is reached so victims can access the appropriate support in safe accommodation while waiting for conclusive grounds decision.

We are concerned that reasonable and conclusive grounds decisions are often delayed by the competent authority. We would like to stress the negative impact of delayed decisions on potential victims who are detained or imprisoned. Additionally, criminal court proceedings are often postponed accordingly until a decision of competent authority is reached. During this time, potential victims of trafficking, even those with positive reasonable grounds decision, remain in custody instead of being housed in safe accommodation.

We are further concerned that when a criminal case is dropped, it is common for the victims of trafficking to be held in prisons, detained by immigration, waiting for the outcome of their immigration case. We strongly believe that non-criminalisation, protection and well-being of the victims in these cases should be prioritised over their immigration status.

3. Clause 42: Guidance about identifying and supporting victims

Currently the bill presents limited information on the victims’ identification and support (clause 42). We believe that this needs to be further addressed, especially in cases of victims who are near the end of the 45 day reflection and recovery period. We believe that the bill should further clarify when the reflection and recovery period starts. Through our observation we have learned that many victims of trafficking who were waiting on remand in custody and eventually received conclusive grounds decision were not able to benefit from the reflection and recovery period. In one instance, a client received a positive reasonable grounds decision followed by a positive conclusive grounds decision but was unable to benefit from the reflection and recovery period as she immediately received a removal decision. She serves as an example of victim of trafficking who, because of their arrest and imprisonment, are deprived the chance to recover from their traumatic experience and imprisonment during the reflection and recovery period.

4. Clause 43: Presumption about age

We warmly welcome this provision in the Bill. Through our work in prisons and detention centres, we have come across potential victims of trafficking who are minors. These children were often arrested with false document stating that they are adults or were coached by traffickers about what to disclose. We observed that the waiting time for age assessment takes a long time and ultimately impacts the well-being of the minor in custody. To illustrate the hardship that a potential victim of trafficking goes through in prison, we are enclosing a case study of a minor that we encountered while in custody (Annex 1).

5. Clause 44: Duty to notify NCA about suspected victims of slavery or human trafficking.

We support the duty to notify NCA about suspected victims of slavery or human trafficking. We welcome the measures that give victims the choice to disclose information that enables identification of the person.

We believe that a comprehensive database of information would provide a better idea of the scale of human trafficking. Sharing information between various professionals involved in particular cases would prevent re-questioning of the victims and further re-traumatisation.

We would like to emphasise our support for international cooperation and information sharing with international partners. Prevention and identification of vulnerable adults and children who might be at risk of being trafficked is an important step in fighting modern day slavery. We cannot overstress how crucial it is that upon returning to their country of origin, the survivors should be safe and receive specialist support in rebuilding their lives.

Giving consideration to the number of overturned negative NRM’s decisions, we would welcome a provision allowing the appeal of the initial decision wherever there are strong grounds supporting it. The involvement of an independent body would ensure that the NRM’s decisions are made in timely manner and according to set standards.

Annex 1: Case study of H.

"H" arrived in prison in October 2013. She was brought to the attention of Hibiscus Initiatives’ project worker by other Vietnamese women who were concerned that H might be a potential minor. The project worker held regular one-to-one sessions with H with the help of an interpreter during which H talked about her experiences and disclosed that she was born in 1997 and therefore she was 16 years old. The prison authorities and social services in the area were informed of the possibility that a minor was being held in prison. The project worker informed H’s criminal solicitor about the situation and she referred H to an immigration solicitor. The project worker also referred H to an organisation that worked with underage victims of trafficking. The Hibiscus worker saw H on a weekly basis and was able to gather more information about her situation. She forwarded this information to the appointed caseworker at the Home Office. The project worker’s first impression of H was that she was a very young person, not only from her physical appearance, but from her overall demeanour. She looked scared, anxious and during her first sessions, she had deep trust issues and was often tearful. It took some time before H started to behave more calmly in Hibiscus worker’s presence. It was also clear that H recounted her experiences haltingly because the memories were very traumatic.  While it is very common for our clients - foreign national women- to be visibly upset within the prison alien environment, especially at the beginning of their imprisonment, H appeared particularly vulnerable, possibly an indicator of her youth and her frightening life experiences.  

While waiting in the prison’s resettlement area (a large, open area where agencies have surgeries and prisoners wait for their appointments), H displayed clear signs of withdrawal; she sat in a closed posture while rocking back and forth. She looked lost and anxious among people that she did not know. We also noticed that the older women behaved protectively towards H. She spent lots of time with one woman in particular who seemed to behave as a mother figure towards her.

On one occasion, the project worker went to her wing when everyone was locked up. The worker could see H through a window in her cell door. The girl looked lonely, frightened and lost in her single cell. As soon as H saw the project worker, her face lit up, she smiled and her posture and behaviour showed great enthusiasm in seeing a familiar face. She was clapping her hands and jumping around the room. For the project worker it was clearly a behaviour displayed by a very young person, certainly not an adult.

H had been suffering from chest pain and she had developed an infection while in prison. On few occasions H was offered a call to friends or family as part of Hibiscus services, but she never made any calls. She explained that her grandmother had died and she did not have anyone else in Vietnam. H expressed how much support she received while in prison from both the prison officers and external agencies.

In light of her experiences and exploitation, it was clear that she needed specialist ongoing support with a multi-disciplinary approach including psychological counseling and under the care of professionals working with victims of human trafficking.

Hibiscus’ project worker liaised closely with H’s immigration solicitor and approached social services to conduct an age assessment. It took 2 months before H’s age was assessed. Social services concluded that H was an adult of 18 years old age. H’s immigration solicitor disputed the age assessment and is currently waiting for the final decision regarding this matter.

In the meantime, H received a positive conclusive grounds decision recognising her as a victim of human trafficking, her criminal charges were dropped as the judge recognised that she was trafficked for forced criminal activity. H claimed asylum and was released to NASS accommodation in January 2014 where she has been waiting for the decision on her asylum claim.

H. experiences prior to her arrival in prison

H previously lived with her maternal grandmother after her parents got divorced and her father left. She dropped out of school when she finished her third year in primary school at 8 years old. H helped her grandmother around the house and on the farm for the following two years. At one point her grandmother was approached by some people who told her about sending her granddaughter abroad for a better life. They would provide food, accommodation and work. The grandmother agreed. The people told her not to worry about the money as they could lend her the necessary funds and she could pay them back later. They also arranged all needed paperwork to travel. The name and personal details were different from the ones given.

H was taken to the airport to travel to Russia. Once she arrived in Russia, the job she was promised was not there and the person who made the travel arrangements vanished. She was put in contact with other Vietnamese people who allowed her to live with them, but in exchange she was asked to help them with their business at the market. She worked there for 2 years and described it as a difficult work that was hard to cope with. One day she called her grandmother to tell her about the labour and how difficult it was for her. The grandmother contacted one of the people who organised the travel and complained that it wasn’t what he promised for her granddaughter. The organiser told the grandmother that he could arrange for H to go to the UK to be trained in nail care services. The grandmother agreed but in exchange she had to pay 600 million Vietnamese Dong. She borrowed the money so her granddaughter could be taken to the UK.

H was transported together with 5 other people in a lorry. She was coached on what to say in case they were caught. She was not allowed to reveal who the organisers were and she was told to increase her age if asked because she was the youngest. H was told that if she did not comply, her and her family’s lives would be in danger. They arrived in France, where H would remain for about a year, and were taken to a place where other immigrants were staying. H and a few others were told to cook and wash clothes for the camp. Some nights, people were taken where lorries were parked. One day she was taken as well and was further coached on what to say in case she was caught. She was placed into a container with other people and taken to the UK. H and the others could not breathe while they were being transported as there was not enough air in the container so they attempted to alert the driver. When the driver realised that there were people at the back of his vehicle he called the police. The interpreter that was given to her at the police station informed her that it was June 2011. Her fingerprints were taken and she was interviewed. H provided her real name but not her age. She was afraid to disclose her real age as the organizer had threatened her family if she said how old she was. H told the police that she was born in 1995. The police informed social services and she was taken to a foster family. She remembers a house with many rooms filled with bunk beds and other children. H disappeared the same night. She explained that when she went outside of the house, she got lost.

On the street, H approached a person that looked like a Vietnamese national and explained what had happened to her. The person took her to his home. She started to change residences frequently. She left the house only to mingle with the local Vietnamese community. One day she went to the town centre get some coffee where she recognised a person from the group that organized her travel abroad. He told her that he could speak on her behalf to help her with food and accommodation. She stayed until she was promised work by another man who took her to his accommodation where he lived with his wife.

After a week he asked for money for the accommodation costs. She was taken to work at a place full of wires, which scared her. H refused to work there and asked for another type of work. The man threatened her with prostitution if she would not take this work. Having no choice, H stayed and received a list of instructions detailing how to look after the plants. She was not allowed to leave the place, was told that she was being observed all the time. The people brought her food regularly. H developed a chest infection from the conditions in which she lived. After police raided the house, she was arrested and taken to prison.

October 2014

Prepared 15th October 2014