Joint Committee On Human Rights Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-52


22 MAY 2006

  Q40  Mary Creagh: What specific difficulties does that cause you at present, that part?

  Ms Beddoe: I think it comes back to an earlier statement that I made which is trying to get a balance in the contradictions at the moment, or removing the contradictions between immigration policy and the best possible child protection safeguarding issues. One of the things that we hear all the time from practitioners in the field is confusion around the fact that when a child is seen to be "illegal" then somehow that makes them go into another system, they are not entitled to the same sorts of services we might see given to another child going through the same sort of distress and situation if they were a British born child. There is this sense of confusion out there at the moment in immigration policy, particularly confusion amongst social workers when they are sending a child down the asylum route but without a clear understanding that many of these children in the current process are not automatically considered for asylum because trafficking, as we know, is not a cause of persecution.

  Q41  Mary Creagh: You both support the provision of indefinite leave to remain for children who have been trafficked regardless of their involvement in criminal proceedings. How do you respond to concerns about this creating a pull factor for people who are involved in organised immigration crime?

  Ms Beddoe: Perhaps I can pick that up. I have seen no evidence across our international partners who are working on this issue to support the pull factor argument. If anyone was to provide that from any country then we would willingly look at that but as far as all of the agencies we work with on an international basis who are working with child trafficking there has been no evidence to support that.

  Ms Patel: It goes to the issue of consent. Children cannot consent to being trafficked so they cannot then take part in any sort of discussion or debate about whether they want to be trafficked or not.

  Q42  Mary Creagh: Can you say that again?

  Ms Patel: Because children who have been trafficked cannot willingly give consent then the pull factor does not work for them because they are not aware of it and go down the pathway to get trafficked. The other issue goes back to putting child trafficking at the heart of the child protection system, which we think is the best way to deal with it and help victims of trafficking.

  Q43  Mary Creagh: Can I ask you about the NSPCC. You draw specific attention to the provision of legal advice and assistance to child victims of trafficking when they make their asylum applications. Can you tell us a little more about your concerns in that area?

  Ms Patel: We have had a number of cases where the legal advice has been of very poor quality. The issues of poor quality that we find are children's rights and their rights to asylum to be seen as trafficked victims are not recognised at appropriate times so the children have been dragged through quite long-winded immigration processes before they get the appropriate advice. That is the main impact on them.

  Q44  Mary Creagh: Who is providing that poor advice to them?

  Ms Patel: Just high street solicitors. It is an issue where guidance to social services would be quite useful because children are given advice to go and seek legal advice by social services and local authorities but often there is no guidance as to where that legal advice might be so they could walk into any sort of solicitors that offers advice around asylum.

  Q45  Mary Creagh: There are plenty of dodgy lawyers around this issue. Can I ask ECPAT, in your submission you draw attention to concerns about the return of children who may have been trafficked via another EU Member State to that Member State for processing. You also draw attention to the IND programme to forcibly return children to Vietnam without assessment of how they came to be in the UK. Can you expand a little bit more on those two concerns?

  Ms Beddoe: Certainly. The Dublin II Convention was the first thing you mentioned which does allow for third country processing. We have received concerns about this from social workers in various parts of the country when children who may have been trafficked are going through that process but where their status as a potentially trafficked child or young person is not the priority for receiving the appropriate care and support. Another is the fact that they are being returned to a country where they have no other support or recognition simply because they fit under Dublin II where their social worker has made many attempts to try and intervene in this process to get that child or young person out of the process to say, "Hey, we think there is another situation here we have to deal with in respect of aspects of trafficking in this case". We felt that potentially this could lead to trafficked children and young people being returned to situations where the only people they know are linked to their trafficking and this does not provide them with the adequate support that we believe they need. That is the first issue. The second issue goes to the current Home Office IND forced returns programme which is currently looking at Vietnam but also 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. We also know that Vietnamese children and young people are being trafficked to the Czech Republic, so it is not just about the UK. There are inherent dangers in returning children in the way in which IND are currently putting this programme together. Voluntary returns we support and would not have any problems with those but the nature of forced returns places undue risk on each child if we cannot guarantee a durable solution for each child.

  Q46  Mary Creagh: Can I just come back on voluntary returns. Do you think there are further steps the authorities could be taking in the area of voluntary returns?

  Ms Beddoe: Steps beyond what they are doing now?

  Q47  Mary Creagh: Yes.

  Ms Beddoe: I think there are. I do believe from the information coming into our organisation from partner organisations in other countries that there is a lot more scope to develop bilateral relationships with other organisations, other charities, who are able to support children and young people when they return if family reunification is not going to be the right solution.

  Q48  Lord Judd: As somebody who was involved in the Council of Europe and the work that led up to the Convention I am very interested to see that you are both very much in favour of the UK signing and ratifying. It would be helpful if you could tell the Committee why you see that as so important and how it would improve the situation?

  Ms Beddoe: From ECPAT UK's perspective we believe that ratification of the Council of Europe Convention embeds minimum standards into the way in which we look at and work with issues around trafficking. Although we would not see the Council of Europe Convention as being the only mechanism to take, we believe that any country needs to have minimum standards and this will help guide the process of best practice. It would also signal both in Europe and internationally that the UK is taking this issue seriously. At the moment we believe that the UK's reputation on trafficking is a bit tarnished as a result of not doing as much as it possibly could.

  Q49  Lord Judd: Do you think that the Convention goes far enough?

  Ms Beddoe: I think there are always best practice measures we can learn from. I would like to see us looking around internationally to see where best practice is emerging and over time how we can observe better what we are already doing.

  Q50  Lord Judd: You feel the first step is to sign and ratify?

  Ms Beddoe: Yes.

  Q51  Lord Judd: Both of you?

  Ms Patel: Absolutely. It would set a minimum standard and avoid the inconsistency you get with a case-by-case approach.

  Q52  Mary Creagh: Are you aware of the police's Operation Paladin at Heathrow Airport and have you got anything you would like to say about that? When we spoke to them last week it was too early to say and they were hedging around it and we did not get a feel as to what that is showing, if anything, around the trafficking at Heathrow. Is there a problem? Is it coming through at regional airports? Can you say a bit about that?

  Ms Patel: If you only concentrate on one port of entry you are going to get a very limited picture. The issue about trafficked children is that in our experience not all children are trafficked unaccompanied, often they come accompanied by adults and that is much harder and goes back to the training and identification issue. It is much harder to spot. In general we support the work of Operation Paladin but we think at best it is going to be quite a piecemeal audit.

  Ms Beddoe: Paladin is one approach and we know through the information we are getting that the regional airports are much more vulnerable than Heathrow. There are some services operating very effectively at Heathrow but when you look at what is happening in other parts of the country where there are stretched resources, where they are not necessarily going to get the teams that the Met can put up at Heathrow, we need to focus a lot more on what is going on in the rest of the country rather than just on the unaccompanied children coming in to Heathrow.

  Ms Patel: I would add not being completely focused on identifying trafficking at the point of entry because what the children tell us is that they did not realise they were being trafficked, they thought they were being brought over for other purposes by family friends.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for your evidence. We will be producing a report in due course. Thank you.

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