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
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
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
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
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.