UK human trafficking claims are rejected in 68% of cases, says UKHTC report
OVER two-thirds of checks on persons claiming to be trafficked into the UK find no trafficking has taken place, say latest figures from the UK Human Trafficking Centre.
Of 385 outcomes to date on the 706 persons referred in the last year, less than 32% were confirmed trafficked, while 68% were determined “not trafficked.”
Four out of five claimants were from outside the European Economic Area, many with no legal right to be in the UK.
The bulk of the remaining 321 claimants are awaiting outcomes, while other cases have either been withdrawn or suspended.
Of the 706 referrals, 319, including 55 minors, were referred on the basis they may be victims of sex traffickers. Other cases were for labour exploitation (193), domestic service (133), or uncategorised.
The largest contingent among the 706 was 123 Nigerians. The Chinese accounted for a further 94 and the Vietnamese 62. British nationals thought to have been internally trafficked were the fourth largest demographic, comprising 38 of the 706. The remaining 389 came from 54 countries.
A discredited Home Office estimate that there were 4,000 women and children trafficked for sex inside the UK in 2003 is due to be replaced this year. The new estimate is expected to be much smaller after two national combined police operations unearthed barely 250 apparent victims between them. The recently published crime figures for England and Wales show only 59 sex trafficking cases last year.
The victim recognition process
The two-stage process in establishing the validity of trafficking claims is carried out by UKHTC itself in the case of European Economic Area citizens. The Border Agency handles claims from outside the EEA as they generally involve immigration or asylum processes.
Referrals to these bodies can only be made by designated ‘first responders’ – the Border Agency itself, the police, social services departments or certain NGOs. Each individual’s consent to the referrals is required, but they cannot self-refer, nor can their lawyers.
The referral having been made, the process of being accepted as a trafficked person is a two-stage one. A “reasonable grounds” test is first undertaken.
UK Border Agency asylum process guidance states:
The ‘reasonable grounds’ test has a low threshold and is lower than the threshold required for prima facie evidence….The test that should be applied is whether the statement “I suspect but cannot prove” would be true and whether a reasonable person would be of the opinion that, having regard to the information in the mind of the decision-maker, there were reasonable grounds to suspect the individual concerned had been trafficked.
This initial test is supposed to be completed within five days of the referral. However, of the 706 cases, 122 (17%) are merely described as “blank” in the UKHTC report – presumably pending – 112 of them the responsibility of the Border Agency. At least one commentator has blamed these delays on conflation with the asylum process.
In practice, where a [potential trafficking victim] has claimed asylum, asylum interviews are being used to assess the trafficking case, which means firstly that [reasonable grounds] decisions are not being made within the 5 day period, secondly that asylum interviews – whose purpose is to assess an individual’s prospective risk of persecution and…need for international protection – are being used to assess the credibility of an individual’s account of past persecution and trafficking, and thirdly that the individual will have no chance to benefit from the reflection and recovery period which would be the result of a positive five day decision.
Of the 553 applications processed, 361 (65%) cleared the first hurdle of having initial “reasonable grounds” to be thought trafficked, but a more onerous test lay in store.
In the 192 cases (35%) which failed the ‘reasonable grounds’ test, nearly all (184) were carried out by the UK Border Agency rather than UKHTC, and therefore comprised non-European nationals. A further 31 referrals for trafficked status were withdrawn or suspended.
With this first test passed, the person is entitled to 45 days recuperation to recover from trauma, access support and reflect on their future. This period should also allow the authorities to complete further inquiries on the alleged trafficking.
The second, more detailed stage may involve inquiries both inside the UK and in origin and transit countries.
Of the 361 who cleared the first ‘reasonable grounds’ hurdle, 123 have thus far been finally accepted as trafficked citizens, while a further 70 have been determined as not trafficked, taking the rejected total to 262.
Another 26 of the 361 who passed the reasonable grounds test were described as “currently missing,” with remaining cases awaiting their fate.
The UK’s procedure for dealing with trafficking cases was condemned last month by the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group of leading charities, who said Britain was breaking the European convention against trafficking and was even breaching UK law.