Joint Committee On Human Rights Twenty-Sixth Report


6  Protection of victims

138. In this Chapter we consider the effectiveness of the policies and mechanisms established in the UK for the protection of the victims of trafficking, and how they can be improved. In our view this is the most important human rights question falling within the scope of our inquiry, and the protection of victims should be the starting point from which all other policies relating to trafficking, such as the legislative framework to prohibit trafficking and enforcement of the law against traffickers, which we have already discussed, should flow. A victim-centred approach, which the Government claims it is seeking to adopt,[204] is not identical with an overall human rights compatible strategy against trafficking, which comprises a mixture of obligations. Protection of victims must nevertheless be firmly at the centre of any such strategy. This conclusion would appear to be borne out by the comparative example of the Italian approach to combating trafficking, which we also describe in this Chapter.

Identification and referral of victims

139. In the first instance it is clearly of vital importance, within a human rights approach to the issue of trafficking, that strategies are developed to ensure that those persons who have been the victims of human trafficking be properly identified. Identification, after all, is not only the first step towards generating better intelligence and securing the criminal prosecution of traffickers and exploiters, it is also essential to ensuring that victims' human rights are protected through the provision of appropriate social services and other support.

140. There are a number of reasons why victims of trafficking may not wish to identify themselves as such to officials - clearly fear of reprisal from their trafficker or exploiter is a significant factor. In addition, evidence suggests that in many cases, victims who are in the UK illegally are concerned that if they come forward, they will simply be returned to their source state, and potentially also charged and punished for a migration offence. Victims of trafficking who come from different cultural backgrounds may experience a distrust of police or other officials, stemming from the corruption of such organisations in their countries of origin. There is also, in many cases, a desire to avoid returning to their home country, which may involve both letting their family and friends know what has happened to them and being placed back in a position of poverty and increased vulnerability, including to re-trafficking. For some victims, moreover, the reason they may be reluctant to identify themselves to authorities as trafficked is because there is insufficient incentive in terms of the treatment afforded to them in the UK to render this worth pursuing, particularly in light of its attendant risks. Finally, it is perfectly possible that, even if stopped and questioned (especially when this occurs at the point of entry only), they may genuinely not yet be aware of what is happening to them.[205] This is particularly so in cases where the victim is a child.

141. These obstacles to victim self-identification do not preclude strategies designed to provide information to vulnerable persons and to encourage victims to seek out sources of assistance directly. In addition, though, they enhance the need for training those officials most likely to encounter victims of trafficking in successfully identifying them, rather than waiting for self-referral. Dedicated training regimes have been implemented for police, immigration service and social services officers, and the Home Office Crime Prevention Unit has developed an anti-trafficking toolkit:

"Since 2005, all immigration officers have received awareness training on this subject in the identification of victims as part of their induction training. Guidance documents are available to them setting out who to contact and what services are available. Trafficking profiles are in use in all of our intelligence units up and down the country, and the Home Office has an online tool that is now available to immigration staff or to assist them in the process. In terms of the victim, they are always spoken to in their own language. Whatever the language, they will always be interviewed in that language. Social worker teams are in place at five ports and also screening units, basically to help with the way the person is handled, particularly the needs of unaccompanied children. We have set up minors teams, which are specially-trained teams of immigration officers in interviewing techniques of smaller children, unaccompanied children. Their training is very specialised and it tries to get them to recognise the triggers in the process. It will help them not just to identify the victims but also the perpetrators. By September this year, 600 staff will have received that specialised training so that there is a 24-hour, 7-day a week system in place by which they refer to local authorities for assistance in placing the child."[206]

142. In addition, Operation Pentameter "did look at ports and … had posters and training of immigration and police officers which gave them profiles of what a trafficking victim might look like."[207] Operation Paladin Child involved profiling nationalities and ages of children who were not met at ports and then asking social services to go and look into those children and see what was happening to them.[208] These specific examples suggest recognition of the need for further training in the identification of victims of trafficking, as well as the creation of greater will to ensure that this training is provided and taken on board.

143. However, evidence provided to us suggests that the overall picture is one in which, despite many examples of localised good practice, there is a lack of a standardised response, little effective cooperation between agencies, and, crucially, no centralised data collection of numbers of victims, and no clearly defined policy statement on action to be taken to protect victims:

"There are a number of guidance documents, some of which are quite good. The Crime Prevention Unit of the Home Office has a good anti-trafficking toolkit. Anti-Slavery has produced a very good toolkit about how to spot a trafficked person, and actually, interestingly enough, the immigration services' recent "Children Arriving in the UK" document is very good at describing what trafficking is and which countries are likely to use trafficked children, but then there is a holding process, so at the moment if these children and adults get seen at the airport or at the port of entry they may well come into the category of trafficking but no-one is actually nationally collecting together a database of those people."[209]

144. A variety of systemic, procedural and cultural issues arise with regard to the lack of multi-agency cooperation aimed at combating human trafficking. There seems widespread acceptance that "[t]here are a number of agencies that should be involved in the identification of victims - the police and immigration but also social services [and] health professionals, prison officers, probation, the CPS".[210] Some steps have been taken towards better cooperation. However, despite these encouraging developments, it has been argued that such measures must take place "right across the country at points of entry" in order to be effective.[211] Concerns have also been expressed that there seem to be no plans to continue nationwide monitoring now that Operation Pentameter has come to an end.[212] One witness reflected the consensus, calling for a "UK-wide system of identification and referrals, which is what the OSCE recommends".[213] Such a system should encompass authorities likely to come into contact with victims once they are in the country, such as social services and health authorities.

145. In addition, evidence suggests that there may be cultural obstacles to identification and referral within governmental agencies whose guiding imperatives tend not to revolve around victim protection. Of the 387 referrals to the POPPY Project last year, fr example, "only 16 were made by immigration. The vast majority were by the police and NGOs."[214] This suggests that, despite the initiation of training on identification, more work needs to be done to assist immigration officials in recognising trafficked persons as victims of crime and human rights abuse, rather than as migration offenders. In the absence of this training, evidence provided to us suggests that people who have been trafficked into the UK may not be asked appropriate questions by officials, and as a result will fail to be identified as victims. Various witnesses provided anecdotal evidence of trafficking victims having been sent immediately to detention facilities, to await expedited removal along with non-trafficked illegal migrants. Once in these removal centres, moreover, the likelihood of identifying persons as trafficked is significantly lessened: it is therefore essential that removal centre staff are fully trained in identification of victims.

146. Despite the improvements which have been made to enable trafficking victims to be identified, we agree with those who argued that further significant progress is required so that they can reliably receive protection and co-operate with law enforcement authorities. The law enforcement agencies must work closely with local authorities, NGOs, and other members of civil society in this regard, and further development of training, especially on a multi-agency basis, is required, including for the judiciary and the CPS. We also agree that a national identification and referral system should be established in line with OSCE recommendations. We believe the Government should fund a public outreach and awareness campaign through advertising and the use of a freephone number for victims to self-refer and for those who use prostitutes to refer women whom they think may have been trafficked. Such measures would ensure that the UK was in line with the requirements of Article 10 of the Council of Europe Convention, which requires member states to establish an effective system of identification and referral and to implement training among law enforcement agencies.

147. There is, of course, one further way in which victims of trafficking may be identified, which is via referrals or 'tip-offs' from clients who purchase their sexual services, or who frequent establishments where others make such purchases. We were told at the Poppy Project that referrals have been made in this way.

148. This presents a dilemma since on the one hand police strategies to quash demand adopt a zero tolerance approach to those who purchase trafficked women's sexual services (with rape being suggested as a possible charge) while on the other hand those who use prostitutes can provide a vital source of intelligence, as well as a route to rescuing trafficked women, and must be encouraged to come forward.[215] While sexual intercourse without consent is clearly an offence, we consider that men who have used the services of trafficked prostitutes should not be discouraged from reporting to the authorities their suspicions that the women concerned may have been trafficked. While we note and welcome Mr Coaker's view that those who genuinely come forward to identify trafficking victims would not be prosecuted for rape,[216] it is clearly inconsistent for the authorities to suggest that men who use the services of a prostitute who has been trafficked will be prosecuted for rape, especially given the legal obstacles to successful prosecution, and at the same time urge such men to report such activity to the authorities or a helpline. While we understand and recognise the reasons why politicians of all parties have called for prosecution of such men for rape, it does appear that this may have been counter-productive. We would welcome further clarification of the Government's position on this question in its response to this Report.

149. When identified, victims of trafficking should be promptly informed of their rights in the UK. Such information on rights under the ECHR and other instruments to which the UK is a party should also be disseminated as widely as possible, in co-operation with human rights organisations and other representatives of civil society, among sectors of the population which may include trafficking victims, to encourage them to report cases of human rights abuses with confidence and ease. In this respect we commend an initiative of the Home Office to distribute a document on workers' rights, published by the TUC, to Accession 8 workers.[217]

150. In relation to child victims of trafficking, we welcome the initiatives which have been taken so far to assist in identifying them, such as the Operation Paladin Child and the establishment of minor teams at Heathrow Airport. We recommend that consideration should be given to the extension of such initiatives to other major rail, air and sea ports of entry to the UK, so that the Government can properly monitor the flows of trafficked unaccompanied minors and better ensure that they are identified whenever possible on arrival in the UK.

Protection of victims' privacy and identity

151. Under Article 11 of the Council of Europe Convention, as already explained, member states must protect the privacy and identity of victims. In the UK, the Data Protection Act 1998 may be invoked for this purpose.[218] However, various instances have been reported where victims' privacy has been invaded during court proceedings and they have been traumatised as a result. Protective measures in court, for instance, are ad hoc and not used systematically and consistently.[219] The decision to employ them is a judicial one, and judges do not necessarily have adequate knowledge of the particular needs of trafficked victims. One of the trafficked women we met on our visit to the Poppy project had found her experience of giving evidence against her trafficker a highly traumatic one in the absence of measures to protect her identity. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 contains provisions allowing for more sophisticated witness protection programmes to be established in the UK, though we did not receive evidence detailing how these provisions might be used in trafficking cases. We urge the Government to address the question of protecting victims' identities in court proceedings, through judicial training if appropriate.

152. Further, while the media has played, and continues to play, an important role in raising awareness of trafficking in the UK, some coverage has also been criticised as being prurient and showing little consideration for victims' on-going safety.[220] Examples include reporters being notified in advance of police raids and the publishing of the names and whereabouts of the victims.[221] In order to discourage media practices which may affect the safety of victims, the Press Complaints Commission should have, and use, wider powers to protect the privacy of victims, as breaches of its Code.[222]

Initial and early treatment of victims

153. Once a victim of human trafficking has been identified by the UK authorities, a whole new range of problems arises—as a police officer said to one witness, "What do we do?"[223] The evidence provided to this inquiry indicates that many services simply do not have the capacity to respond to the needs of victims:

"In many cases the police are having to go to their own budgets to accommodate and support women, which we say is an incorrect use of police resources, and trafficking is one of those crimes for which the police do not have performance indicators and are loath to divert the resources outside of the specialist anti-trafficking unit. They will just not have the time and the resources to make that identification."[224]

154. At present in the UK there is no nationwide support and protection scheme in place for victims of trafficking but "if you do not have the support agencies to refer those women and children to you are in a bind as to exactly what to do."[225] The current level of support provision may be somewhat clearer when the results of Operation Pentameter are published later this year:

"One of the issues around Pentameter was that we asked for an assessment to be done by each force of what the social services provision was or specialist provision in their area, and if they did rescue a person where they would intend to put that person. There were a different range of agencies, some governmental, some non-governmental, and some social services. Some involved charitable organisations such as CHASTE, churches in Europe and the Salvation Army. There are different refuges in different parts of the country."[226]

155. As things stand, the current approach to victim assistance relies to a large extent upon the Poppy Project. This project provides safe accommodation for trafficked women, run by Eaves Housing in London. It can cater for a maximum of 25 women at one time. Entry to the Poppy Project is determined on what many of those giving evidence to this inquiry considered to be overly narrow criteria - in particular only women who have been trafficked for sexual exploitation and who have been involved in prostitution within the last 30 days are eligible. That said, we heard on our visit to the Poppy Project that it does not find these criteria too problematic, particularly as it has the discretion to be flexible in some cases (15 of the 99 women accepted for accommodation under the scheme between 2003 and 2006 did not in fact meet all the criteria). But some eligible women have had to be turned away due to a lack of space. It was suggested to us on our visit that the Poppy Project is half the size it needs to be, properly to meet the demand for its services, and that similar projects need to be established in other cities. We believe there is clearly insufficient capacity in the system to provide shelter and specialist support services for the women who need them, and we urge that capacity be expanded as a matter of priority.

156. Once admitted to the Project, women have access to counselling and advice, as well as medical services and safe accommodation. They will be helped to purchase basic clothing, invited to social events and introduced to health, education and English language services. Bearing in mind that 85% of those involved in prostitution come from outside of the UK,[227] trafficked women who come to the Poppy Project need and have the benefit of interpreters. The Project is also developing its use of cultural mediators to assist women from diverse cultural backgrounds to understand and deal with what is happening to them. While the Home Office has agreed to continue funding the Poppy Project until 2008, its funding position remains dependent upon regular review. Inevitably, this makes long-term planning difficult for those involved with the Project, and does little to create a feeling of stability and security for the women involved in the scheme. We believe it is essential that security of funding is provided for projects of this sort.

157. Alongside the Poppy Project, there are also a number of other NGOs and voluntary organisations that seek to offer assistance to victims of trafficking (including, in Glasgow, a new centre working specifically with trafficked victims[228]). However, much like the Poppy Project, these organisations remain in an uncertain financial position and frequently report that they are not able to provide as much assistance as they would like, or as they believe is required. The importance of these organisations at all stages of the process should not be underestimated: they often "encounter [trafficking victims] first, whether they are community workers, NGOs, people in churches or in anti-racist groups".[229] And the task faced by these bodies is particularly difficult because "a lot of women from other countries do not have the same understanding of social work services and other NGOs that women have in the UK, so there is a bit of mistrust".[230]

158. For women who do not secure access to the Poppy Project, avenues of less coordinated support remain available. Women who are from the EU are entitled to claim housing benefits, and women who are able to claim asylum may qualify for support and accommodation from the National Asylum Support Service. In both cases, however, this provision does not ensure safe accommodation.[231] In addition, they may be eligible for further support, depending on their migration status and their ability to lodge a compelling case for an asylum application. People trafficked into the sex industry may also benefit from the support of sex worker outreach projects, and may be able to access medical services through them. Victims of sex trafficking must have specialist support.

159. Beyond these issues of immediate housing, food and medical assistance, a further question arises regarding the level of legal assistance given to victims of trafficking. There are difficult questions relating to funding of legal assistance for victims who wish to make asylum claims upon their discovery. Evidence to our inquiry expressed concerns about the impact of legal aid restrictions, which have "resulted in many asylum applicants being unable to obtain access to good quality legal advice and representation at all stages in the asylum process."[232] One witness, for example, was concerned that "if we cut off legal aid after a certain number of hours in investigating a woman's immigration claim that might also be discriminatory because the cases of trafficking tend to be more complicated and it takes longer to get the information from the individual."[233] There was also some concern expressed regarding the quality of the initial legal assistance that was being provided to victims of trafficking, the following being a situation described as typical by one witness:

"They were given access to legal representation but the information that we got from the POPPY Project who interviewed those women was that the duty solicitor was not really in a position to give them much advice or guidance. There was not any assessment of whether an appropriate adult might be needed for women who were clearly quite vulnerable and intimidated…"[234]

160. Given the trauma that is attendant upon the experience of being trafficked, many victims may not be in a position to assess whether they wish to pursue such prosecution, or to assist police in their investigations, immediately upon their rescue. While women who are admitted on to the Poppy Project are given 28 days within which to decide whether they wish to take part in the investigation, there is evidence that others are not given the benefit of a similar period of reflection delay, with many being removed from the UK within 24 to 48 hours, unless they are able to claim asylum.[235] As noted above, there is a concern that many victims of trafficking are simply not recognised as such by the authorities and so are treated and removed as illegal migrants. What is more, even in those cases where it is recognised that a person has been a victim of trafficking, there are no automatic guarantees that removal proceedings will be held in abeyance pending their decision on whether or not to assist the authorities with further investigations. Decisions to allow victims who are not part of the Poppy Project to remain temporarily in the UK are generally taken by the authorities on a case-by-case basis. Witnesses expressed some concerns about this approach:

"if we were able to categorically say to women: 'You are entitled to this assistance from us for this period of time' it would allow women breathing space and they would not be concerned about their immediate future or whether they were going to be immediately deported back or remain in police custody. It would go some way towards offering reassurance which women need to have within that initial period of contact with the authorities…Even to offer them that level of support and that categorical reassurance for even just four weeks would be very important in building up women's ability to trust workers and to begin to slowly disclose what has happened to them."[236]

Victims of trafficking, upon discovery, should have the opportunity to report their experiences to the police and to ask that, where possible, steps be taken against their traffickers or exploiters.

161. In addition, witnesses also noted that there was some evidence to suggest that linking victim support to police co-operation could be counter-productive not only in terms of the victim's recovery, but also in terms of securing convictions, since it can be attacked by defence lawyers as an incentive to testify.[237]

SPECIFIC ISSUES RELATING TO CHILDREN

162. Children are not eligible for entry to the Poppy Project. In April 2004, a safe house for 16 and 17 year old girls who had been trafficked was opened in Sussex. It was, however, closed only a few weeks later, in part due to a lack of referrals from the local authority. No similar schemes have been undertaken since. As a result, the support of child victims of trafficking falls to be dealt with under the general obligation imposed on local authorities by virtue of the Children Act 1989. This imposes a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are in need within its area and to provide services with a view to assisting these children.

163. In the context of trafficking, reliance on this general approach can, however, be problematic: "social services have to take these children on but do not really know what to do, so we have case material of trafficked children being put in semi-independent, inadequate accommodation without a lot of support."[238] We were told on our visit to the Poppy Project that, while there are some pockets of good practice, the support offered to trafficked minors is generally of a poor standard, with cases being encountered where young women disappear without receiving any support. In their evidence to the committee, both ECPAT UK and the NSPCC noted with concern that "most trafficked children are put through an immigration and asylum process without recognition of their special needs as victims of trafficking".[239]

164. One suggested solution to at least some of the problems presented by initial and early treatment of child victims was "the appointment of some sort of guardian or advocate for that young person who has been trafficked, not by the voluntary sector but by the local authority."[240] It was also suggested by witnesses that greater consideration should be given to more "cultural and linguistic support for children who have been trafficked."[241] This support should extend from first contact through to the long-term care of trafficked children:

"One of the things that strikes us about the children we work with is the absolute isolation that they feel … it does take a long time to build a relationship with a child, for them to tell you his or her story and what has happened. We would ask for sustained funding for good services for those children who can offer a variety of needs in different areas: health, accommodation, a lot of befriending, a lot of emotional support, so they can relate the abuse they have experienced and start recovering."[242]

165. The Government told us, in relation to the appointment of a guardian for trafficked children during court proceedings, that local authorities had various relevant responsibilities under the Children Act 1989, and expressed the hope that a situation in which there was no one in a position to communicate a child's point of view to a court would be the exception. We nevertheless consider that the question of the support available to trafficked children in legal proceedings, in dealings with other authorities, and in their daily lives, is a matter which needs to be reviewed urgently. We are not persuaded that, generally, local authorities have developed the necessary expertise to cater for the very special needs of trafficked children.

Longer term treatment of victims

166. In the context of long-term care for victims of human trafficking, "[t]here is a range of psychological and physical health issues that may emerge as well as the need for counselling."[243] This support should be provided primarily as a response to the needs of the victims. However, there may be a secondary reason why it could be useful and "that would be to possibly present as a witness for the prosecution of traffickers and bring them to account."[244] This was recognised by several witnesses:

"Obviously, where victims are prepared to give evidence, we need to give appropriate levels of support. That involves supporting them in terms of emotional support but also practical support in terms of payment for travel back to the UK if they have returned home in the meantime, or providing them with support if they remain in the UK pending giving evidence."[245]

167. For those who have been victimised, there may be a strong need to see justice done and to be involved in court proceedings against their traffickers, which should be facilitated while ensuring that only suitable cases are brought to court. We have already considered the question of witness protection for victims of trafficking. In some cases it may also be necessary to liaise with police forces in the source state to ensure protection for the witness or his or her family (although we recognize that ensuring this kind of protection will not always be easy or possible).

168. Separate from the question of victims participating in cases against traffickers are issues pertaining to legal proceedings that relate to the victims themselves. A number of those who gave evidence to this inquiry raised the issue of a right to compensation, which was felt to be particularly important in labour exploitation:

"I think, again, if somebody has been exploited, if they have not been paid any money, the idea of them accessing their employment rights is also a bit illusory. It is very difficult for domestic workers to present their argument in an employment tribunal: they do not have any evidence; they will not have any contracts and often they will not have had any tax and national insurance paid on their behalf, so their case might not even be eligible to go to an employment tribunal … So, I think, in trying to obtain and trying to access the rights that they should have, technically it is very difficult in practice for them to do that." [246]

169. However, the difficulties faced by employees in obtaining redress against employers who exploit labour migrants were also highlighted. Often, the immigration status of victims "is such that unless they are employed as a domestic worker they are in breach of the terms of their visas, so if they were to try and seek further support they need to be in employment for their visa still to be valid."[247] For this reason—and the fact that workers feel they must keep a constant stream of funds going back home to their families— it is not uncommon that "the same domestic worker [is] abused by a number of employers because … they are a vulnerable person with a lot of responsibility back home."[248] It is important for the authorities to be especially vigilant in this area because often such people "are not recognised as having been exploited because they came here on a legal visa; they have rights in theory but these rights cannot be accessed in practice."[249] Charities expressed considerable disquiet about proposed changes to the domestic worker regime which require domestic workers to enter the country with a named employer, their visa becoming invalid if they leave their employ. In our view this change would mean that domestic workers who are trying to flee a violent employer would be less likely to do so, and less likely to approach public authorities for help or to report their abuse. We urge the Government urgently to review these proposals and to ascertain their likely negative impact on victims of trafficking.

170. The Government provides limited legal assistance to trafficking victims in the form of state funded "legal help" to cover their initial asylum or human rights claim and "merits based help" for any subsequent appeals against the Home Office.[250]

171. As for compensation to victims, the UK has a system of providing compensation to victims of crime. They may, for instance, benefit from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, established under the Criminal Justice Act 1988.[251] Under this scheme, victims suffering from criminal injuries are entitled to compensation. Criminal injuries include, but are not limited to, rape, assault, kidnapping, and abduction. In addition, section 130 of the Powers of Criminal Court (Sentencing) Act 2002 authorises the UK courts to make compensation orders against perpetrators of crimes. Further, under the Victims of Violent International Crime (Arrangements for Compensation) (European Communities) Regulations 2005 (in force as of 1 July 2006), the UK provides access to compensation in cross-border situations in EU Member States. Some of these crimes certainly are relevant to trafficking of human beings.

172. Despite these mechanisms being available, as of July 2006 no compensation has yet been awarded to a victim of trafficking.[252] When traffickers are in prison and in no position to pay, judges do not normally order compensation, and there is little point in them doing so.[253] As one witness put it:

"The right to compensation is provided for in the Palermo Protocol which the UK has ratified and also in the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime which the UK has ratified. It is also provided for by the Council of Europe Convention which we hope the UK will sign up to in the future. At the moment, the way the compensation mechanisms are working, there are no recorded examples and no support provided that we are aware of where compensation has been awarded either from the UK government or via traffickers where assets are seized as part of the prosecution process. The court does have powers to award compensation in addition to custodial sentences. There is some scope for compensation to come from the proceeds of crime, not out of the general government, Treasury pool."[254]  

173. Taking into account the various international instruments bearing on obligations to provide compensation to trafficking victims which we have already set out in Chapter 2, and the obligations which would be incurred under Article 15 of the Council of Europe Convention if that were ratified, we consider that, for the avoidance of doubt, the simplest way to achieve this would be to clarify the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme rules as to the entitlement of trafficking victims to claim under the Scheme. This could be dealt with as part of the current review of the Scheme.

ASYLUM AND REMOVAL

174. A further issue which arises in regard to the long-term protection and legal representation of victims of trafficking relates to their options in terms of residence within the UK. The difficulties with obtaining legal aid and proper representation for asylum claims discussed above clearly have a bearing in this context, since while the representation is required immediately, its impact is decidedly longer-term. Even where the applicant has been identified as a victim of trafficking, the asylum interviews and appeals hearings are interrogative, rather than investigative. According to Amnesty International, the Government does not always have procedures in place for protecting victims of trafficking, enabling them to give an account of their experiences and investigating risks in source states.[255] Women who are admitted onto the Poppy Project are allowed to remain there for up to 12 weeks, so long as they are co-operating with the authorities and are in a position to be able to provide information that is relevant to any future prosecution of those who may have trafficked and exploited them. Thereafter, they must either return to their source states, or apply to remain in the UK via normal procedures. Under these procedures, the UK operates a case-by-case system, under which each application to remain is considered on its individual merits. Mr David Wilson of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate told us that the immigration service would only take a decision to remove and repatriate a victim of trafficking where it was appropriate to do so.[256] In all cases, the option remains for the victim to be allowed to stay in the UK, either on a temporary or a permanent basis, most commonly because he or she was assisting in criminal proceedings or because it was deemed to be unsafe to return them to their country of origin. There is, however, no provision to conduct a formal risk assessment in all cases involving trafficking victims prior to their return.[257] Without such an assessment it is not possible to be certain that removal or repatriation of a victim would be appropriate. We recommend that such assessments be introduced.

175. Evidence frequently noted the difficulties with securing asylum for victims of trafficking: "of the POPPY Project women who, of course, all were known to the Home Office, none were granted asylum when they first applied for it but many of them were granted it on appeal."[258] Of course, the fact that such leave was eventually obtained can be read in a positive light, but evidence presented to us frequently indicated that such cases represented very much the exception, rather than the rule.

176. Mr Wilson also told us that most victims of trafficking are not deported and are not subject to deportation procedure: rather they may be subject to administrative removal.[259] We were assured that whatever the nature of the removal process, immigration officers take the ECHR, particularly Articles 3 and 8, into consideration in making decisions.[260] Mr Coaker emphasised that the Government would not knowingly return a trafficking victim to his or her country of origin if they were going to be re-trafficked,[261] and that the Government liaises with the governments, NGOs and others in source countries to make sure that people who are sent back are not re-trafficked.[262]

177. In practice, however, from other evidence we have received it would appear that trafficking victims who have entered the UK illegally may find themselves treated as immigration offenders rather than victims of human rights violations.[263] Mr Coaker himself referred to six of the women rescued by the highly-publicised raid on the Cuddles massage parlour as "immigration offenders",[264] though he later said that not all people coming into contact with the authorities as a result of trafficking operations were treated as such.[265] The immigration authorities are said to be under pressure to meet removal targets, and removal inevitably is going to be the priority for them.[266] The process is speedy, and this, coupled with a lack of adequate knowledge and training, makes it difficult to identify victims properly, the first stage in assuring the protection of victims' rights.[267]

178. Where victims of trafficking are removed and returned to their source states, it appears that the UK authorities are limited in the measures they can take to ensure that they receive sufficient care thereafter. The form of this work is primarily "through liaison with governments, through the work we try to do with non-government organisations in those countries, and with other groups."[268] While some respondents suggested that re-trafficking was not especially prevalent upon repatriation, other witnesses indicated that this simply reflected a lack of knowledge and monitoring.[269] What is more, others suggested that the risk of re-trafficking once returned to a source state remained serious:

"In terms of people being returned from the UK we are aware from the POPPY Project that they have anecdotal evidence to suggest that there is a high vulnerability to retrafficking when people are returned from the UK. Approximately 20 per cent of the women that they have been supporting they find are retrafficked. In one case a person was resold by her family within three days of being returned so there is certainly evidence emerging in returns specifically from the UK where retrafficking is a big problem."[270]

179. In addition, although witnesses often supported voluntary return, many expressed concerns about the 'safe list' of countries from which asylum claims are presumed to be unfounded (which includes key trafficking source states such as Moldova and Albania),[271] as well as the IND forced returns programme which is currently looking at Vietnam, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola:

"We are extremely concerned by this particular programme given the nature of information about children who we believe have been trafficked in from Vietnam at the moment, all of whom have been brought into the UK from Vietnam but who are in a very high risk situation. The risk to re-trafficking if they are not returned with a long-term and monitored durable situation is something that we should be avoiding. We should not be sending children back to a situation if we cannot guarantee and monitor a long-term response for each and every child. The risk to children in Vietnam of re-trafficking is extremely high and there is enough documented information about this because of the trafficking patterns from Vietnam to China to Hong Kong to Cambodia and there are very good organisations working on these issues."[272]

180. In relation to child victims, evidence submitted to us emphasised the potential conflict between UK immigration and asylum policy and child protection principles, which dictate that the primary consideration is the best interests of the child. Calls were made for the Government to remove its reservation to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in relation to immigration control.[273] The previous JCHR pressed the Government to remove this reservation,[274] and in our view the need for this to be done is further strengthened by its potential effect in relation to child trafficking victims if their best interests are not to be compromised. In their submissions, both the NSPCC and ECPAT UK emphasised the need for specialist support services and safe houses for child victims of trafficking, and suggested that such victims should automatically have a right of residence regardless of their willingness to take part in criminal proceedings.[275] We agree with these recommendations.

181. The Poppy Project said that a number of victims of trafficking are subjected to immigration detention and deportation once they have provided evidence to the police, and that deportations take place without any regard for the abuses that victims have suffered in the UK and in source states, and without risk assessments.[276] Although unaccompanied minors are not returned to their source states as noted earlier, a concern was expressed over the forced returns programme in Vietnam and other countries currently being promoted by the Home Office, which can be applied to victims of trafficking.[277]

182. Such a practice can be seen as a violation of victims' human rights, and Article 16 of the Council of Europe Convention would oblige the UK to make sure that victims return to their source states voluntarily and safely. The Government should conduct more rigorous research on source countries in order to make an accurate assessment on victims' return. In relation to voluntary repatriation, as we have already suggested, the Government must work closely with appropriate authorities and NGOs in source countries to ensure that victims are able to reintegrate into their societies.

The Italian approach

183. Italy's approach to dealing with human trafficking was commended to us both in formal evidence and in informal discussions as one which unequivocally placed the interests and welfare of trafficking victims at its centre, and was an example which might be followed by the UK in devising a more human rights sensitive strategy in relation to trafficking. We therefore decided to visit Italy to see what we could learn from their practice. We held discussions in Rome and Venice, principally with officials from the Communes, or municipal authorities, of those two cities responsible for the social protection programmes provided for trafficking victims, as well as with representatives of NGOs who provided support services under those programmes. Our discussions related almost exclusively to the issue of trafficking for sexual exploitation, the predominant form of trafficking in Italy, as it appears to be in the UK.

184. The cornerstone of Italian legislation to afford assistance and protection to victims of trafficking is Article 18 of Legislative Decree 268/98 (henceforth "Article 18"). Enacted in 1998, this was described to us as the first specific anti-trafficking legislation adopted by a European country. The law provides a right to a six-month residence permit and social protection assistance to trafficking victims who co-operate with the authorities. Such co-operation could take two forms, either a formal denunciation made by the victim to police and then the giving of evidence against those accused of trafficking (the "judicial path"), or the less formal giving of a statement to police in association with an application for a permit made on behalf of the victim by social services or NGOs (the "social path").

185. In connection with Article 18 a national freephone telephone number has been instituted, which received nearly 500,000 calls from July 2000 to March 2006. Most of these came from ordinary Italian citizens, but about 47,000 came from trafficking victims and about 25,000 from the clients of victims, providing a major source of referrals for social protection.

186. The initial six-month residence permit may be extended for one year or for a longer period if required for judicial purposes. The underlying intention behind the system as described to us was that while benefiting from temporary residence permits trafficking victims can receive accommodation, and welfare, health and education services with a view to integrating them into Italian society. Residence permits can therefore be converted into work permits when victims obtain employment. No provision was made in Italy for reflection periods as such. In a sense, the residence permit itself provides a reflection period. At the same time it was explained to us that it had been a conscious decision not to appear to be placing pressure on trafficking victims by giving a deadline for co-operation with the authorities.

187. The Italian authorities granted 851 residence permits under Article 18 in 2002. In 2003, they granted 848 permits, in 2004 436, in 2005 367, and in 2006 (up to the end of May), 349. The drop in numbers from 2004 onwards came as a result of a change in the law in that year, whereby integration of individuals into society was sought by encouraging the issue of work permits rather than by renewing residence permits. Overall, between 1999 and 2006, 448 Article 18 social protection projects were operational throughout Italy. Between 2000 and 2005, 9,398 women participated in projects, and 4,625 had been helped to find employment. Most of the women assisted (52%) were from Nigeria, with significant numbers also coming from Eastern European countries, mainly Romania, Moldova, Albania and Ukraine.

188. Co-ordination and oversight of Article 18 social protection projects is undertaken by the social services departments of local authorities, co-funded with central Government. Some services are provided directly by local authorities, others by religious or secular NGOs following submission of tenders to the local authority. In Rome the social protection project "Roxanne" cost the municipality €1,400,000 a year, with the central Government Department for Equal Opportunities contributing €120,000 in addition. This funded four outreach teams to contact people on the streets, teams to provide legal and social counselling, ten community shelters to house women who had escaped prostitution after being trafficked, providing 55 places in total at any one time, as well as health and educational provision. Approximately 5,000 women were contacted each year on the streets of Rome (a figure which includes non-trafficked women as well as those who have been trafficked), and, between 1999 and 2004, 328 women had been sheltered within communities under the project. In Venice, we were told that 172 people had begun Article 18 social protection programmes since 1999, of whom 158 had successfully concluded them. In both Rome and Venice an important role was played by so-called "cultural mediators", people usually of the same nationality as the victim who could understand her experiences and explain to her the rights which she had within Italian society.

189. Aside from Article 18 social protection projects, Italy employs a variety of other mechanisms in its anti-trafficking strategy. A new definition of the offence of human trafficking was introduced into law in 2003, carrying a sentence of between 8 and 20 years imprisonment on conviction, with more severe sentences in the case of aggravating circumstances such as an offence involving a victim of less than 18 years of age. Italy also has an assisted repatriation programme, working with the International Organisation for Migration, for those victims who wish to return to source states. The programme seeks to repatriate people in total safety, with occupational training to enable them to secure employment in their home countries. Approximately 80 people a year were repatriated under the programme, and we were told that none had been re-trafficked. Alongside this, Italy also has a prevention programme involving aid for Eastern European countries: in its first year, this programme covered Moldova, Ukraine, Romania and Albania, with Bulgaria, Hungary, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia also included in the second year, ending in March 2006. Activities run under the programme included meetings with local organisations and talks to schoolchildren, as well as involving the media and TV advertising campaigns, to get across the message that trafficking ruined lives. Significant reductions had been achieved in the numbers of those trafficked from the four countries included in the first year of the programme.

190. Though it is not easy to assess the scale of trafficking into Italy in comparison with trafficking into the UK, we were highly impressed by the way in which the proactive victim-centred approach adopted in that country has allowed such high numbers of trafficking victims to be supported and ultimately integrated into Italian society. The Article 18 social protection process also appears to have had a significant effect in securing successful prosecutions of traffickers, by assuring victims that their security will not be jeopardised if they denounce or give evidence against those who have trafficked them. If victims feared they would be deported after co-operating with the authorities, we were told, they would not be motivated to give such co-operation. Notwithstanding the difficulties of unravelling the complex international criminal organisations involved in human trafficking, in 2004, in Italy, 3,266 people had been reported to the judiciary for trafficking offences, of whom 412 had been arrested. In 2005, 2,943 people had been reported, resulting in 356 arrests.

191. Successful prosecutions of traffickers, along with prevention programmes in source states, have reduced significantly numbers of women trafficked into Italy from Albania, Moldova and Ukraine. This did not necessarily mean an overall reduction in numbers trafficked, as new patterns of trafficking were emerging from other Eastern European countries and from countries such as Thailand. But Italian officials, rightly in our view, did not see this as an argument against taking action. Perhaps as significantly as the impact on numbers trafficked from individual states, we heard that the successes of Article 18 and associated policies had caused traffickers to moderate the previously brutal levels of violence and psychological coercion which they employed against the women they trafficked, both to make the women less likely to seek Article 18 protection and to reduce the likelihood of them being convicted of trafficking offences.

192. We were assured that safeguards were present against the abuse of Article 18 protection. The principal safeguard was that a precondition of social protection assistance was an investigation by the police into relevant offences, with the victim's co-operation taken into account. NGOs running social protection programmes had to be officially registered, with checks every 6 months into organisations and individuals being afforded protection. If people failed to follow the programmes provided for them, residence permits could be revoked, although this occurred in a minority of cases. In Venice, for example, we were told that 13% of those who had begun a social protection programme had failed to complete it.

193. Nor did the Italian authorities consider that an immigration "pull" factor was operating as a result of the support and assistance provided under Article 18. Claims for social protection have to be supported by evidence of victim status as a result of specific offences of trafficking, and residence permits are refused in the small percentage of cases where such evidence is not forthcoming.

194. The Italian system is not always perfect in practice. We heard of isolated instances where trafficking victims had been deported without being informed of their rights to Article 18 assistance, and of the police being unwilling to accept the validity of the social path to claiming a residence permit. The condition for Article 18 assistance of co-operation with the authorities could also be criticised on the grounds that protection should be afforded on the basis of need, not contingent on other factors. However, this criterion did not appear to be applied in practice so stringently as to cause any noticeable deterrent effect.

195. Despite these flaws, the overall picture we encountered in Italy was one of a concerted and well-designed policy founded on the strong moral basis of the need to assist women to escape from the servitude of trafficking for sexual exploitation, to which all other considerations were secondary. This policy, applied energetically and with political and administrative will by central and local government and NGOs, has not only served its immediate purpose of reducing the suffering and misery of such women, but has also materially assisted in bringing traffickers to justice. The numbers of trafficking victims assisted in Italy, and the numbers of traffickers arrested, far exceed the comparable figures for the UK. One reason for this, we believe, is that in Italy street prostitution is not unlawful, which means that the victims themselves are both visible and accessible to the outreach teams. While all elements of the Italian anti-trafficking approach may not be transferable to the UK context, the fundamental philosophy behind it is one which we found highly attractive and impressive. Its clear harmony with human rights principles has had a profound influence on our thinking about human trafficking policy within the UK, and we commend it as a model for our own Government in developing its strategy against human trafficking. We further urge the Government to conduct its own research into the effectiveness of the Italian approach.

Conclusions on protection of victims

196. In the course of this Chapter so far we have considered current practice in the UK in relation to the protection of trafficking victims and found that, despite some welcome improvements, evidence shows that the human rights imperative to protect victims still takes second place in practice to other public policy demands, including in particular the desire to control immigration. This clearly compromises the Government's declared intention to promote a victim-centred approach.[278] The various recommendations we have already made would all have the effect, in our view, of bringing the Government much more fully into line with the relevant provisions of the international human rights instruments to which the UK already subscribes, as well as going much of the way to making it possible for the Government to sign and ratify the Council of Europe Convention in good faith. We now summarise our principal conclusions and recommendations in relation to the protection of victims, and give our views on those Articles of the Convention which have been the focus of most attention and controversy, and which have been cited by the Government as the principal reason for their delay in deciding whether to sign the Convention, relating to recovery and reflection periods and residence permits.

197. As we have made clear, despite the legislation in place to criminalise trafficking, there is no specific legislation in the UK granting protection to the victims of trafficking. Protection is given on a discretionary case-by-case basis, and on the condition that victims co-operate with the authorities. While many of those who submitted evidence agree that the Government has started taking some significant steps, and notwithstanding assurances given to us, we consider that the current level of protection provided to trafficking victims as a whole is still far from adequate. Either through legislation or other means, effective protection of trafficking victims must be put on a far more reliable basis in order to meet the UK's human rights obligations.

198. More specifically, the Government needs to—

  • improve and develop training in the identification of victims, and ensure that those who are identified as victims of trafficking are not treated as criminals or immigration offenders
  • ensure a more comprehensive approach to the provision of basic support and assistance to victims upon their discovery
  • place finance for victim support and accommodation on a secure footing, although its provision will extensively involve the experience, assistance and resources of NGOs
  • put adequate procedures in place to ensure that victims of trafficking are provided with appropriate support (including interpreters and legal advice) to pursue effectively an application for residence within the UK
  • do more to assist those who are returned to their country of origin (or voluntarily repatriated) to re-integrate into their home society without increased vulnerability, particularly to re-trafficking.

REFLECTION PERIODS AND RESIDENCE PERMITS

199. We have carefully considered the concerns expressed by the Government about the potential for reflection periods and residence permits, as provided for in Articles 13 and 14 of the Council of Europe Convention, to act as an immigration pull factor. The Government has made no claim that they would create a pull factor in terms of actual victims of trafficking.[279] Given that trafficking takes place under conditions of coercion or deception such a claim would not of course make sense. It is not credible to suggest that a woman would voluntarily submit to indeterminate sexual slavery of the most brutal kind for the purpose of obtaining UK residency. Instead the Government argues that a pull factor could be created for those who would be willing to make fraudulent claims of trafficking victim status.[280]

200. The bulk of the evidence submitted by NGOs in this inquiry suggests, however, that such concerns are largely, if not entirely, unfounded. Nor did we find any evidence of a pull factor resulting in fraudulent claims to have been trafficked arising from Italy's Article 18 procedure. Safeguards exist within the Convention itself, so that reflection periods do not have to be provided if fraudulent claims are made. We therefore do not accept that there is any realistic likelihood that the Convention's provisions relating to reflection periods and residence permits would act as a pull factor for migration into the UK.

201. On the other hand, evidence clearly suggests that these provisions would perform a vital role in ensuring that victims have appropriate access to basic information on what their rights might be in terms of immediate support and protection and health care, in terms of their right to claim asylum, and in terms of their right to legal assistance or to compensation.[281] The evidence also suggests the provisions would be helpful in ensuring the eventual prosecution of traffickers.

202. We find the twin concepts of reflection periods and residence permits to be highly attractive as guarantors of the protection of the human rights of trafficking victims and of the provision of other protection and support measures to them. In Italy, as we have noted, there is no provision for reflection periods as such, although temporary residence permits provide de facto reflection periods, and have protected victims' human rights effectively. However, especially given the safeguards contained in the Convention, we consider that all the evidence supports the case for the UK to adopt these provisions.

203. In the case of reflection periods, Article 13 of the Convention provides for them to be a minimum of 30 days. Given the depth of trauma and suffering that many victims of trafficking will have experienced, we share the view of those who consider that this period will not be long enough in a significant proportion of cases for victims to recover and decide whether to co-operate with the authorities. We understand the point made by the Government that delays in co-operation with the authorities by victims may reduce the likelihood of successful apprehension and conviction of traffickers, but the welfare of the victim must be the paramount consideration. We consider that three months would be an appropriate standard length of time for reflection periods.

204. We welcome the fact that renewable residence permits under Article 14 of the Convention are to be granted if either a victim's personal need makes it necessary or in order for them to co-operate with investigations or criminal proceedings. The Article does not specify the length of the temporary residence permits which must be granted under it. Although we recognise that the UK is not bound by it, we recommend that the Government uses the Council Directive on Residence Permits as a model for residence permits for victims. This Directive obliges Member States of the EU to provide residence permits of six months.

SIGNATURE AND RATIFICATION OF THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE CONVENTION

205. We are firm in the belief that the UK should sign and ratify the Council of Europe Convention. We can see no convincing argument against this course of action. While it would be possible for the UK to construct a coherent human rights based approach to tackling human trafficking outside the Convention, adherence to it in concert with the other nations of the Council of Europe will in our view greatly strengthen the framework of anti-trafficking policy in the UK, notably in relation to the core matter of the protection of victims.


204   Q 94 Back

205   Q 52 [Ms Patel] Back

206   Q 113 Back

207   Q 60 Back

208   Q 62 Back

209   Q 66 [Ms Finch] Back

210   Q 65 Back

211   Q 36 [Ms Beddoe] Back

212   Q 65 Back

213   Q 66 [Ms Joshi] Back

214   ibid. Back

215   Qq 101-102 Back

216   Q 102 Back

217   Q 185 Back

218   Appendix 25, para. 40 Back

219   Ibid.  Back

220   Ibid., para. 41.  Back

221   Ibid.  Back

222   Ibid., para. 44.  Back

223   Q 61 Back

224   Ibid. Back

225   Q 66 [Ms Joshi] Back

226   Q 132 [DCC Maxwell] Back

227   Q 19 Back

228   Q 18 Back

229   Q 6 [Ms Dudley] Back

230   Q 19 [Ms Hamilton] Back

231   Appendix 10, para. 55 Back

232   ibid., para. 68 Back

233   Q 70 Back

234   Q 68 Back

235   Appendix 10, para. 47 Back

236   Q 16 [Ms Andrew] Back

237   Q 69 [Ms Biden] Back

238   Q 30 Back

239   Appendices 14 and 21 Back

240   Q 34 Back

241   Ibid. Back

242   Q 37 Back

243   Q 16 [Ms Dudley] Back

244   Ibid. Back

245   Q 126 [Mr Bolt] Back

246   Q 175 Back

247   Q 197 Back

248   Ibid. Back

249   Q 165 Back

250   Appendix 25, para. 132 Back

251   Followed by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act 1995 (c. 53). Back

252   Q 82 and Appendix 23 Back

253   Appendix 25, para. 135 Back

254   Q 82 Back

255   Appendix 10 Back

256   Q 156 [Mr Wilson] Back

257   Appendix 2 Back

258   Q 66 [Ms Finch] Back

259   Q 156 [Mr. Wilson] Back

260   Ibid. Back

261   Q 128 Back

262   Q 136 Back

263   Q 27 [Ms. Patel] Q 189, Appendix 16, para. 51, and Appendix 25, para. 27 Back

264   Qq 127, 128 Back

265   Q 154 Back

266   Q 65  Back

267   Appendix 16, para. 53.See also Qq 23 and 65, and Appendix 10, para. 31, and Appendix 23 Back

268   Q 136 Back

269   Q 78 Back

270   Q 77 [Ms Biden] Back

271   Appendix 10, para.88 Back

272   Q 45 Back

273   Q 27, 39 & 40 Back

274   Tenth Report of Session 2002-03, The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, HL Paper 117/HC 81, para. 87, and Seventeenth Report of Session 2004-05, Review of International Human Rights Instruments, HL Paper 99/HC 264, para. 49 Back

275   Appendices 14 and 21 Back

276   Appendix 23 Back

277   Q 45 Back

278   Q 154 Back

279   Q 142 [Mr Coaker] Back

280   Q 141 Back

281   Q 58 [Ms Joshi] Back


 
previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 13 October 2006