Trafficking in People
Baroness Elles (Conservative)
rose to ask Her Majesty's Government:
What measures they are considering in order to combat illicit trafficking in people.
My Lords, in recent years the number of young people brought into the United Kingdom for prostitution has escalated exponentially, as have the financial gains for those who trafficked them. It is alleged that the sums involved have now reached such an astronomical figure annually that it is about the same figure as that realised from drug trafficking.
In March last year, the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, introduced a debate on trafficking in children. In a distinguished speech, he made four proposals touching on support services, reflection delay, victim protection and tackling trafficking at source. I shall be touching on those issues in the time available and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all noble Lords for taking part in this short debate tonight.
First, Her Majesty's Government should be congratulated on recognising the importance and size of this problem by the rapid introduction of Sections 143 and 145 into the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act in November last year. Inevitably, however, they are limited by the scope of the Act.
Secondly, the introduction of Clauses 58 to 61 in the Sexual Offences Bill, now passed to another place for consideration, are also to be welcomed. The clauses, replacing and enlarging on those in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act, go some way to meeting the obligations imposed by the European framework decision on combating trafficking in human beings. This decision is to be implemented into international legislation by July next year.
Many reports have been written during the past three years covering aspects of the problems and reflecting changes in the general attitude to those who were brought to the UK to be used as prostitutes. They were termed illegal immigrants and when identified were immediately sent back to their countries of origin, as they are still being sent back today. In many cases, they are inveigled into coming into the EU from conditions of poverty, with the hopes and aspirations of raising their standards of living, earning good wages and being employed in a variety of jobs. A more recent approach has been to recognise these people not as criminals, but as victims.
As we know, these young girls, who are mainly between the ages of 15 and 23, may come with legal documents, but these, including passports and other documents, which may be genuine of false, are removed from them by traffickers. Many of these girls are sold to people in this country, locked up for a period and often physically abused and ill-treated, before being set up in flats or other accommodation and forced into prostitution. The money that they earn is seized by their employers on the grounds of repaying travel expenses to the UK, rent of their accommodation, and domestic costs, and many have little option but to carry on the same work. The travel costs can vary from £1,500 to an enormous £22,000 in the case of girls brought from China. The chances of ever repaying such amounts are indeed remote.
Girls are sold on to prostitute rings or sent to a string of brothels in the suburbs. Soho is by no means the only area known for prostitution; it is a widespread phenomenon throughout other cities in the UK, including specifically Edinburgh and Glasgow, to where large numbers of Chinese have been trafficked.
The Metropolitan Police clubs and vice squad smashed some groups last year. Chief Superintendent Chris Bradford said:
"These women were shamelessly exploited for commercial gain"
Some provincial forces, however, have been withdrawing their officers from active participation in dealing with trafficking due to a lack of resources and an increase in local crime. They occasionally co-operate on a case by case basis. Sentences in such cases have ranged from three and a half years to a maximum of five years imprisonment. In practice, however, such sentences are halved, making them negligible. The maximum sentence has now been raised to 14 years under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act and the Sexual Offences Bill.
From March this year, a pilot scheme has been introduced to provide a safe house under the guidance of Eaves Housing. Various proposals from different organisations suggest ways of dealing with how to help victims of trafficking. The proposal under the European framework decision refers to the safeguarding of victims who are willing to assist the authorities in the prosecution of the traffickers involved. The UN protocol on trafficking makes it clear that enforcement cannot be achieved only by legislation.
In Italy, there is another approach. In southern Italy, for example, victims are given permits to stay in safe houses for up to six months, regardless of whether they agree to assist in the prosecution procedures. That reflective period therefore does not insist on participation in the process, but is a means of extracting the individual from an intolerable situation without imposing legislative co-operation. I feel that that proposal should be encouraged and copied.
Belgium and the Netherlands have also introduced measures to safeguard and protect victims from their enforced trade, and it is understood that those are proving to be successful. The British Reflex programme, launched in 2000, is also to be welcomed. It tackles the problem both at source and in the transit countries. In the UK, however, it has been approaching the matter from a different angle. It seeks first and foremost not the protection of victims, but, first, to reduce the profits made by criminal gangs; secondly, to increase the risks they take; and, thirdly, to reduce the opportunities for exploitation.
Finally, as a further example, in December 2002, nine governments in south-eastern Europe, which are to be commended warmly, including Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary and Macedonia, supported a statement on commitments to legalise the status of trafficked persons.
A summary of recommendations set out in Anti-Slavery International's publication Human Traffic, Human Rights makes a valuable contribution to meeting the diverse ways of handling trafficking. Among the 45 recommendations I would point to just three.
The first is that government agencies should develop guidelines and procedures on treatment of trafficked person by law enforcement officials, together with the NGOs dealing with trafficked persons on a day to day basis. Secondly, a range of measures of protection should be made available to victims and witnesses, including both informal ones, such as access to police, and formal ones, such as secure housing. Thirdly, for victims willing to return to their country of origin, immigration and police services should make available to trafficked persons contact information on NGOs, language and interpretation facilities and social welfare organisations which can assist them on their return.
In conclusion, I should like to put some questions to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam—who I hope has already had a copy of the questions. First, has any decision been taken on the introduction of registration cards or entitlement cards? Secondly, how many victims have so far been housed with Eaves Housing as a result of the pilot project, from 10th March 2003, with provision of safe housing for women victims of trafficking? I know that the project has begun, but I am wondering how far it has got. Thirdly, are relations with governments and NGOs of originating countries being developed both bilaterally and multilaterally—which is greatly important for those being sent back to their original countries? Fourthly, are new measures being considered in handling traffickers and affected people from, for example, the Baltic states and central and south-east Europe following enlargement of the EU in May 2004? Finally, are Her Majesty's Government indeed opting out of any of the provisions in the European framework decision?
I look forward to the comments of noble Lords and to answers from the Minister.
Lord Avebury (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, as the noble Baroness said, we have discussed the menace of people-trafficking on a number of occasions. Most recently the subject came up in the debate on the report last month on Europol of Sub-Committee F, chaired by my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond. The Minister who replied said that an effective system of co-operation throughout Europe was essential in the fight against trans-national crime including people-trafficking, and that the UK has played a leading role in supporting Europol with resources and intelligence. What he did not say, however, was whether the Government think that Europe is getting to grips with the huge business of people smuggling, said to be worth an annual £8 billion throughout the world.
A story in the Observer last Sunday referred to the conviction in Holland of "Sister Ping", whose organisation is said to have been responsible for smuggling 200,000 Chinese into Europe, and was also alleged to have been involved in the deaths of 56 people who were found asphyxiated in a lorry at Dover two years ago. They say that although the woman is now behind bars, the business continues, and that employers in East Anglia are paying trafficked workers £2 per hour.
When that is happening on such a scale, and as blatantly as is alleged by the Observer, it should not be too difficult for the police and the immigration authorities to pick up the migrants themselves, but getting the bosses is another matter. Does the Minister say to the House that the police have adequate resources to tackle such crime and, in particular, do they have proper resources to deal with the Chinese community, including Chinese language speakers?
Neither China nor the UK has signed the Migrant Workers Convention, which came into force on 1st July. Can the Minister say what our objections to it are? Is it that we consider our existing legislation adequate to protect migrant workers from exploitation, although it may not always be well enough enforced? In occupations such as seasonal agriculture, and the hotel and catering industry, it is possible even for workers recruited in less affluent EU countries such as Portugal to face abuse and exploitation.
The Ethical Trading Initiative is co-ordinating a working group of stakeholders including Defra and the Home Office to look at the feasibility of a licensing and registration scheme for the gangmasters who recruit foreign labour for the food and agriculture industry. Could the Minister give us a progress report on that work, and tell us whether Ministers think that a statutory or voluntary scheme will be needed?
I turn to the appalling phenomenon of the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation. The US State Department produces an annual trafficking in persons report, assessing the efforts that countries are making to stop the business, and threatening withdrawal of US aid from those that are doing nothing. But some of them are already pariahs. Burma, for example, whose Government use forced labour internally, is a source country for women and girls forced into prostitution in the neighbouring countries. Some traffickers have been prosecuted, but corruption is a huge problem and many officials at local and regional level are suspected of turning a blind eye.
Clearly the UK does not have the resources to conduct a comprehensive survey of its own on what is happening in the source countries. But if we collaborate with others in the EU, we should be able to make joint assessments—trying to add to the information already collected by the State Department, rather than simply duplicating it. That would be a useful area of co-operation between Europe and the US which the Government might consider. In addition, Europe might pick up and resolve some of the criticisms identified by Human Rights Watch: that the State Department gives undue credit for minimal efforts, and that it ignores government practices, such as summary deportation and incarceration of the victims.
Much has been said in previous debates about the difficulty of persuading trafficked women to give evidence against the people who run this evil business. That may be an insuperable obstacle to prosecutions so long as the victims have no security. That matter was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles. Such women may feel that, as illegal entrants, they will be shipped back immediately to their country of origin if they come forward. Therefore, it is important that, if they seek protection from the authorities as victims of exploitation, they are given a period of grace to recover from the experience. The noble Baroness mentioned the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy as examples of countries which have such mechanisms. It would be useful to know from the Minister whether we have studied the procedures in those countries. And what is the view of the Government about working towards a uniform set of rules for the treatment of women victims throughout the EU?
I know that it has been suggested by some EU governments that grace periods would lead to false claims being made by women who were trying to get around immigration controls. In the three countries mentioned, that has not happened. Mention has been made of a draft EU directive on short-term residence permits, providing a very modest level of support for trafficking victims. However, I understand that thus far member states have not been able to agree to that. I should be grateful if the Minister could say whether Britain is one of the objectors and, if so, why.
On the sordid and unbelievable offence of trafficking in children, there is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, said, much anecdotal evidence. She mentioned the particularly nasty story about the eight African children who were taken into care by social workers in Newcastle after they were discovered and were feared to be destined for sexual exploitation.
As has been mentioned, UNICEF says that children are also being brought to Europe for use as domestic drudges. The Climbie inquiry was told that entrusting children to relatives living in Europe who can offer financial and educational opportunities unavailable in the Ivory Coast—and presumably in other West African countries—was not uncommon. But, although the terms of reference of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, were,
"to establish the circumstances leading to and surrounding the death of Victoria Climbie",
he did not look at the risk to children of being brought here for exploitation. Have any fresh instructions been given to immigration officers on how to verify claimed relationships when returning residents bring previously unknown children with them? What are the arrangements for persons granted leave to remain here to declare any children in advance in their home countries? And what are the rules for dealing with unaccompanied children who are met at the airport by persons claiming to be their relatives?
Both noble Baronesses mentioned the epic study by Anti-Slavery International, published last year, which made no fewer than 45 recommendations for combating people-trafficking. Your Lordships have made it clear on many occasions that they support the recommendations and that they want a more vigorous attitude from the Government. I hope that this debate will help to convince the Government that we should act promptly to stamp out the disgusting business of people-trafficking.
The Earl of Sandwich (Crossbench)
My Lords, I give my warm thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, for inviting me to join this debate. I declare an interest as a council member of Anti-Slavery International, and I firmly support what the noble Baroness said.
My purpose in entering the debate is to draw attention to the continuing plight of the victims of trafficking, even after they have been identified. I also want to point out the inadequacy of the Government's present policies and the wide disparity between promises and practice. While governments such as ours now genuinely recognise the problem of trafficking and are going well beyond the signing of UN protocols, they do not in most cases accept the necessity for national legislation to guarantee the safety and protection of those victims. Worse, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, some European governments are allowing asylum considerations to override international law and natural justice.
I shall resist the temptation to describe the causes of trafficking; namely, the poverty that drives so many victims and even their families into the arms of criminals. Our own Department for International Development is attempting to address those causes. In Asia, for example, it supports the International Labour Organisation in Laos, Thailand, China, Cambodia and Vietnam. In the Balkans, it has supported the International Organisation for Migration in training the various agencies dealing with trafficked people, including police officers, social workers and members of the legal profession. The training of professionals is the key to all that. ASI itself is active in capacity building and training in many countries, and more recently in developing advocacy at a European level. In March, it addressed a seminar in Paris organised by the Comite Contre l'Esclavage Moderne, attended by French officials, police and NGOs.
I shall give just one example provided by ASI, which demonstrates the problem we have in Europe, although, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, said, no one is really sure of its size. It is the case of a 17 year-old girl—I will call her Elena—who was abducted by a group of traffickers in Albania and kept in a flat for two months. During that time, she was beaten and raped. Another man came and made arrangements for her to go abroad with him. At the time, Elena thought that she had been rescued, but her new "boyfriend" was another trafficker who, once they were in the UK, forced her into prostitution. Whenever she tried to refuse, she was beaten. The money, of course, went to her trafficker.
After about a year, Elena was picked up in a police raid. She had been told to say nothing to the police, and she was worried about getting her family into trouble. She was held at Heathrow for two days while immigration officers arranged to have her sent back to Albania. No arrangements were made for her to be seen by an NGO either in the UK or after she arrived back in Albania.
Elena went back to live with her family, but soon received threatening calls from the traffickers. Her family wanted her to go to the police, but she did not trust them. Concerned for herself and the safety of her family, she decided to let the gang take her back to the UK. A few months after she had been trafficked back to the UK for the second time, she managed to escape. She made an application to stay in the UK, but that was rejected by the Home Office. She has since won her appeal, which has also been challenged by the Home Office.
Last month, ASI presented evidence to the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. Based on a 10-country policy study, the report of that sub-commission showed that, due to the failure of governments to take appropriate action, many trafficked people continue to suffer human rights abuses even after they escape from their traffickers.
The forms of assistance are spelled out in Articles 6 and 7 of the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (2000), which has been signed by 117 nations. They include residency status, housing, information and counselling, medical and legal assistance, and employment and training opportunities. They also cover areas of witness protection.
Under international law, as has been said, victims of crime such as trafficking require and deserve a period of initial protection and support. Many are forced into it. It is not their fault that they have crossed an international frontier illegally. In ASI's view, there must be a period of at least three months of reflection to allow for proper investigation.
The provision of temporary residence permits beyond the reflection period is equally important in ensuring the protection of trafficked people's rights. However, ASI says:
"In most cases access to the residency permit is made conditional on co-operation in criminal investigations against traffickers"—
already mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury—
"and is not available on the basis of serious harm suffered or the risk of harm upon removal".
That is a terrible indictment of our legal system and it shows what a contradiction there can be between criminal law and our interpretation of the law on human rights.
The EU Council framework decision on combating trafficking in human beings obliges all EU states to harmonise their domestic criminal legislation on trafficking by 2004, including adopting a common definition consistent with the protocol and establishing minimum penalties for trafficking. However, while the EU recognises that such harmonised definitions and penalties are essential in combating trafficking, it has not yet accepted that high standards of support and protection for victims are equally important.
In Italy the definition is broader, as has been mentioned. Under the Italian system residency permits are provided on the basis that a victim of severe exploitation is in danger as a result of an escape or because that person is co-operating in criminal proceedings. There is also some provision for employment for victims who stay in Italy. The Italian model is not comprehensive, but it does at least recognise that such support should not be conditional on co-operation in prosecutions. That approach apparently has the full support of prosecutors and has helped to ensure greater co-operation with the authorities in Italy because victims feel more secure.
Perhaps the Minister could confirm that this model is being seriously studied and emulated in the Home Office. There is no evidence that any victims of trafficking are seeking to evade asylum laws. There is, on the contrary, a clear link in ASI's view between the provision of services to victims and the securing of convictions of traffickers. That is a very important point. I submit that a greater emphasis on protection, as intended by the UN protocol but not yet legally binding, would appeal to many European governments in their search for the perpetrators of these appalling crimes.
Baroness Goudie (Labour)
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, for initiating this debate. I am pleased that in January of this year the Government introduced into the House of Lords the Sexual Offences Bill, which includes legislation to strengthen offences to deal with sexual exploitation. In addition to the new offences relating to sexual exploitation of children, there will be new offences relating to the sexual exploitation of adults and a new offence of trafficking people for sexual exploitation.
Children are frequently victims of trafficking for the sex trade. Many people will automatically associate that trade with the sexual exploitation of girls but too frequently it also affects boys. We as a civilised society should be determined to end this appalling way of life for all vulnerable children in the UK and throughout the world. I congratulate the Government on working with non-governmental organisations, including Anti-Slavery International, as well as law enforcement agencies, which look at ways of delivering support for victims.
I have worked very closely with Vital Voices founded by Senator Hilary Clinton and directed by Melanne Veveer. Vital Voices has been running programmes since 2002 in countries all over the world where women are vulnerable to such treatment. I welcome the Home Office's new pilot scheme with housing, which will offer support, counselling and assistance to women, in particular to those who are willing to co-operate with the police in order to track down the traffickers and they will not be in fear of being deported. There is a need for those who know about victims to speak out, confident in the knowledge that this will not lead to further victimisation of victims.
We should ask ourselves why, in 2003, trafficking remains a global problem, embedded in a web of poverty, conflict, population displacement, political transition, inadequate female education and economic opportunity and the low value placed on women and children. The criminal nature of this human trade makes it difficult to obtain accurate statistics on trafficking and therefore we cannot know the true extent of the phenomenon. However, it is estimated that each year world-wide 4 million women, children and men are trafficked into modern forms of slavery. The purposes for trafficking include not only prostitution, debt bondage, and domestic labour but also the trafficking of children as slave labourers, child soldiers, camel jockeys and sex slaves. The United Nations protocol on trafficking in persons, adopted in November 2002 now has 105 signatories including the United Kingdom. The protocol defines trafficking as,
"the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud or deception of the abuse of power or of vulnerability or the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude and the removal of organs".
This protocol represents a new approach in international law to trafficking. It serves as a legal framework for national legislation, setting standards on criminal characterisation of conduct constituting crime of trafficking and the severity of punishment, providing much needed benchmarks on anti-trafficking—preventive policies and effective human rights measures to protect the victims. I ask the Government not only to do all they can to stamp out the appalling trade in this country, but to keep it high on the international agenda. Trafficking is not only an abuse of human rights; it is an affront to all humanity.
Lord Hylton (Crossbench)
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, for the way in which she has introduced this short debate. I shall concentrate on what happens in this country to children and young people who arrive unaccompanied, some of whom have been purposely trafficked.
We all know that responsibility for children generally has been transferred from the Home Office, first to the Department of Health and most recently to the Department for Education and Skills. Whatever the bureaucratic turbulence that this may have created, I emphasise that the interests of the child must still be paramount and the protection required by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child must be given as a national obligation. Therefore I ask the noble Lord who is to reply for an assurance that the extra costs of caring for incoming unaccompanied children will be fully reflected in grants from central government to the responsible local authorities.
Regarding the arrangements at Gatwick Airport, I welcome the good level of co-operation that now exists between the Immigration Service, the police and social services. However, aftercare of identified children still gives grounds for concern. West Sussex social services takes all such children, but between 1995 and 2002 no fewer than 75 children were lost or disappeared—that is about 10 a year—and one has disappeared this year. Can the Government say whether any of the missing children have since been found? Are they thought to be in Britain or have they been smuggled overseas? Have any died or been killed? What information has been received from Interpol and Europol?
Since 1999 West Sussex has been operating a safe house, providing only for six girls aged 16 to 18. Can the Government say whether that housing provision will continue? What provision is, or will be, available for boys and for other children aged under 16? West Sussex County Council have spoken of refocusing their services. What does that mean in practice?
I welcome the presence of a police child protection officer at Heathrow Airport. Is it correct that a permanent police child protection unit will be set up? If so, will it be national, regional or what? What will be the terms of reference for any such unit?
The London Borough of Hillingdon provides the childcare for all unaccompanied children coming to Heathrow. Have any such children been lost from that local authority? Are the Government satisfied with the Heathrow arrangements, or do they think that they can be further improved?
As for the rest of the country, because of the improved arrangements existing for Gatwick and Heathrow, it is probable that traffickers of children are increasingly using other ports of entry. What are the Government doing about them? Training and teamwork are clearly needed for statutory and voluntary agencies. Will the Government make budgetary provision for such training? I understand that there is already evidence from police forces—for example, in Bristol and Nottingham—of some internal trafficking of British-born children. Is this under study, and will the Government require and make sure that effective counter measures are put in place?
As to adults, can the noble Lord on the Front Bench give the House a report on the progress of the pilot scheme for safe houses in London for trafficked women, which has already been mentioned—that is, for women escaping from prostitution? It opened in March this year. Is it working well so far and is the degree of support and supervision provided seen to be sufficient? Can the noble Lord provide further details?
On safety and protection, I agree very much with my noble friend Lord Sandwich. I agree also with the noble Baroness, Lady Elles. Do the Government now accept that both children and adults trafficked into this country need and deserve a period of quiet reflection, if possible for as long as six months, before they can be expected to decide whether to give information or evidence against traffickers and whether they wish to try to return to their country of origin or to some other country?
Lastly, I agree again with the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, on the matter of labour exploitation. People, usually girls, trafficked for this purpose are likely to arrive as part of a family, or looking like part of a family. Skill and experience will therefore be needed to identify them on arrival. That may not always be possible, so their plight should be made widely known, and they should be given every possible opportunity, both to escape and to lodge complaints.
Baroness Howells of St Davids (Labour)
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, for raising the debate so soon after the March 2002 debate of the noble Lord, Lord Alton.
This shows the urgency of dealing with this disgraceful practice. Since that debate the Government, I am pleased to say, have taken steps to bring forward many measures for dealing with this abomination. I shall not reiterate those measures here as they have been adequately dealt with by previous speakers.
I shall confine myself to two issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and today referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, in her opening remarks, by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in his presentation and by other noble Lords as we have gone down the list. That is, the reflection period and the safe housing for those caught in this awful trap. Anti-Slavery International confirms that victims of trafficking need a breathing space or a reflection period in which they can receive assistance, recover from their traumatic experience and make an informed decision about whether they wish to co-operate with authorities in prosecuting the traffickers. This time to receive support and advice and consider their position is of fundamental importance, given the risk to their own lives and those of their families in the country of origin. The families of girls who have been trafficked into the UK have been threatened and attacked in Nigeria.
However, the main problem we have in extending support to victims is the fact that the trafficked person will normally have irregular immigration status. They may have false documents, be an over-stayer with no passport and so forth. Irregular immigration status means that unless they immediately co-operate with the police, they will be subject to deportation. Similarly, other agencies that may have come into contact with victims will find it difficult to assist them if they are in this country illegally. The reflection period will regularise their status temporarily, giving them an opportunity to receive advice and assistance.
This system will not interfere with a police investigation because if the police come into contact with a trafficked person who is immediately willing to co-operate they can debrief them, pursue their investigations and apply to the Home Office for the victim to have exceptional leave to remain. However, if the victim is unable to overcome their fear of the trafficker or their reluctance to talk about their experience—the vast majority will not be able to—they can still be given a reflection period and referred to an agency for support and assistance.
This has a number of benefits. The trafficked person will receive advice and support services that should help them take back control of their lives and may help them to break out of the trafficking cycle. During the period of reflection, those offering support to that person will have time to win their confidence and be able to gather information regarding how victims were recruited, transported and coerced and whether other victims are being held. This information can be shared with the police which will allow them to gather evidence on traffickers, profile possible victims and disrupt the traffickers' network. In some cases, the trafficked person may then decide that they want to testify against the traffickers.
Reflection periods already operate in other EU countries like the Netherlands and Belgium. The EU Council Directive on short-term residence permits currently under discussion proposes its introduction for all EU states. Anti-Slavery believes that the reflection period should last three months as in the case of the Dutch model. It is their experience that victims will often need this period of time to recover from their experiences, overcome their fears and begin to confide in those assisting them. The evidence from West Sussex—already referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton—shows that children will need a longer period and that the reflection period for minors should be at least six months.
All relevant agencies—the police, non-governmental organisations, immigration officers and local authorities—should be able to apply for reflection periods when they encounter someone they consider to be a victim of trafficking. It will ultimately be up to the Government to grant or refuse a reflection period but Anti-Slavery would recommend that the Government take their decision in consultation with an independent agency specialising in assisting victims of trafficking. In this way the reflection period will allow assistance and support to be made available to victims and facilitate the collection of invaluable information regarding the modus operandi of the trafficker which can be passed to the police. The alternative would be that we continue to deport all victims who cannot immediately overcome their fear of traffickers and co-operate with the police. That will effectively assist the traffickers who, in most cases, will be able to "re-traffic" their victims as soon as they are returned home.
The long-term protection needs of victims—whether they need ELR or ILR because of the risk to them if returned to their country of origin—should be examined separately and should not be contingent on or linked to their co-operation with investigations or prosecutions of traffickers. This procedure will ensure that witness evidence or statements cannot be dismissed as being induced by offers of residency.
Housing and employment are self-explanatory and have been touched on by other noble Lords. Many trafficked people will have undergone the trauma of family poverty. Most research supports the need for temporary residency permits beyond the reflection period and safe housing could provide that respite. The proposed EU Council directive states that it is not concerned with the protection of either witnesses or victims. This could prove to be very unsatisfactory and would need a degree of understanding in order to secure co-operation with the authorities.
Lord Dholakia (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, for introducing this debate. There is no political divide between the different parts of your Lordships' House. What is interesting is that when issues such as this are debated it reflects our civilised values and the way that we should be tackling such problems.
The noble Baroness and all other noble Lords who have taken part in the debate reflect those decent values, but more than that, the Government are not the exception here: they have taken on board some of the issues rightly mentioned by the noble Baroness in terms of the provisions of the Sexual Offences Bill which, to a great extent, will seek to help this situation.
But the problem that I often have to face when discussing issues of this nature is summed up in a simple question. Years ago the civilised world abolished slavery, only for it to be replaced by the lucrative trade of trafficking in people. It is the worst form of human exploitation and in most cases the people trapped into it are those who are already victims of poverty.
The statistics world-wide are staggering and they vary from country to country. The US Government estimate that at least 700,000 people world-wide are trafficked each year. Home Office research undertaken in 2000 estimated that, in one year, between 142 and 1,420 women were trafficked into this country. Those are simply the recorded cases. No one is in a position to identify the true scale of the problem. Suffice it to say at this stage, however, that trafficking in people has replaced many other criminal activities designed for financial gain. I do not doubt that the figures for the United Kingdom could be much higher because the Home Office research is confined to reported cases. We just do not know the true scale of the problem.
We have a common understanding of the problem and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, who was good enough to identify what we mean when we refer to the UN Protocol. Its words strike a clear chord. Trafficking is:
"The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion".
But if we take the definition forward, we are talking about a form of exploitation that includes.
"at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery . . . or the removal of organs".
At this point I pose the question again: let us cast our minds back to the days of slavery. What is different today from what happened then?
Much of the action taken to deal with trafficking has been reactive. Only recently has substantial evidence emerged about organised gangs exploiting every inch of human misery by trafficking people for, in this instance, the purposes of asylum. We have the sight of victims being caught on our shores. We know of cases of people who have died in refrigerated lorries and those who are transported in conditions in which we would be ashamed to transport animals. It is impossible to estimate how many victims have lost their lives in the process of being transported.
An article that appeared in the Guardian in March 2003, entitled "Slaves in Soho" made an important point. My noble friend Lord Avebury spoke about this matter. The article said that the police are not set up to deal with people trafficking since it is a transnational industry and many of the girls come from backgrounds where there is suspicion of the police. The police are incapable of tackling its source, which is the disparity in wealth between the eastern European countries such as Moldova and western European countries. The article's other main point is that the sex industry in the Balkans has really taken off since the war there in 1999, due to the large number of troops and other workers operating in those countries.
During the debates on immigration and asylum matters, we have drawn attention to the matter of young girls from third world countries disappearing from the care of social services. Several noble Lords have referred to these issues. However, we need specific answers. We need to know why it is that the girls disappear from the care of the social services. Was an investigation carried out? Where are they now, and where is the report on their welfare? The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, has repeatedly raised this particular issue during the debates on immigration and asylum matters. The Minister should impress on social services in general, and in this particular case West Sussex county council, the need for them to be able to give us an answer. If some good practice could emerge in preventing such vile crime, all of us would be happier for that.
My noble friend Lord Avebury highlighted some of the problems associated with prostitution. However, the Government tend to be more concerned with getting victims of trafficking to provide evidence against traffickers in order to secure prosecutions. The noble Baroness, Lady Howells was right when she said that many are afraid of the immigration authorities and police, which complicates the matter further, especially since traffickers sometimes use their victims' fear of the police and the authorities as the tools with which they threaten them. Many trafficked people, particularly women, have been told by their traffickers that there will be consequences not only for them in this country but for their relations back home. We need to be concerned about that.
One idea mooted by Asylum Aid is something that the Government should seriously consider. It would be useful for the seizure of traffickers' assets to be used to develop safe accommodation for trafficked women. The international people-trafficking industry is the third largest international crime after trafficking in drugs and weapons. It is worth an estimated £4.3 billion per annum to criminals. The sex industry is currently worth over £12 million in the United Kingdom. Financial penalties for this crime would be a significant deterrent for human traffickers.
A number of suggestions have been made in terms of giving space to victims so that they could provide evidence on the basis of which prosecutions could be brought. Those are good practices and we should take that on board. More importantly, we need to look at our immigration and asylum policy. We should regard trafficking as an offence to be prosecuted so as to give shelter to its victims.
I admire very much the work of Anti-Slavery International. According to that organisation it is clear that many European countries, including the United Kingdom, fall short of the standards required to eradicate this vile trade in human beings.
Perhaps I may pinpoint several issues that noble Lords have identified: the protection of trafficked people; as the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, mentioned, what sort of reflection period there should be; if that is possible and if not, why not? But, more importantly, how do we introduce legislation so that once and for all, we can stop the exploitation of such people? We can only put our hands on our hearts and say that we have abolished slavery when we give back dignity and respect to those who are victims of exploitation.
Viscount Bridgeman (Conservative)
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Elles for initiating this important debate, which she introduced with great clarity.
When we are considering the subject of trafficking, the overwhelming proportion affects women and children. There is often a shadowy dividing line between the two. An example from Gatwick illustrates that. Young persons arriving at Gatwick will sometimes say that they are under 18 when they are clearly not in order, as it were, to work the Children Acts. On other occasions, they will say that they are over 18 when they clearly are not in order to avoid being taken to a safe house—an illustration of the skill with which victims are programmed by their traffickers.
I hesitate to list the dangers to trafficked people in company as distinguished as this House, but there is no better summary than that to be found in the 2002 National Criminal Intelligence Service UK threat assessment. It highlights a number key points:
"Violence is not the traffickers' only weapon. They also exploit economic, social and cultural vulnerabilities . . . Traffickers control their victims by removing identity documents . . . Women who are trafficked are often unaware of the nature of their situation until they arrive . . . The women will not have the financial means to escape their abusers".
My noble friend's Question is especially timely, coming, as it does, shortly after the Sexual Offences Bill has left your Lordships' House for consideration in another place. The Bill creates new offences for trafficking respectively into, within and out of the United Kingdom, each carrying substantial maximum prison sentences.
The abuses to which children can be subjected are, sadly, well known. They include all forms of physical and sexual coercion and frequently make the child a drug addict—all to keep the child terrified and under control. The relationship between trafficker and child varies in each case: some are induced to believe that the trafficker is to be their boy friend; others are tied through debt bondage; and children from west Africa are often under the impression that a voodoo spell has been placed on them and that great harm will come to them and their family if they step out of line.
The NCIS report also points out that exploitation of illegal immigrants by organised crime groups does not necessarily stop at bonded or tied labour. It cites incidences involving Chinese and Albanian organisations, in particular, where victims have been kidnapped on arrival in the UK and money extorted from the immigrants' relatives or the immigrants themselves and, in the case of the Chinese, even the hijacking of whole shipments of migrants by a competitor with the usual extortion demands. Then there is the exploitation of immigrants in the commission of various types of low-level crime, such as aggressive begging, pickpocketing and, of course, the all too familiar use of illegal immigrants, especially from the Caribbean, as drug couriers.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to the work done by West Sussex County Council. I, too, am informed that that programme is being restructured. One problem is that it is having difficulty filling its safe houses. Most occupants have been from West Africa. Sadly, that is probably not due to a fall-off in illegal immigrants from West Africa; it is much more likely, as the noble Lord said, that Gatwick and Heathrow are now perceived as difficult ports of entry for the trafficking industry and it is increasingly turning its attention to softer targets or using methods of entry that do not bring them to the attention of immigration authorities at all.
However, West Sussex has gained valuable experience and I hope that that can be shared with other centres where there is now a problem. My noble friend mentioned Edinburgh and Glasgow, but Newcastle and Nottingham have also recently been in the news.
I echo my noble friend Lady Elles's tribute to the work being done by the Eaves Project in the provision of hostel accommodation for women at risk. I know she has some questions for the Minister on that.
I, like many noble Lords who have spoken, would like to see a greater period of reflection for children at risk. All too often the child is sent back too soon—some cynics would say as soon as the child has provided any necessary intelligence. We have all been shocked by the appalling story of Elena, which the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, has told us about based on his experience with ASI.
Evidence from West Sussex social services has shown that the children need this reflection for at least six months. They have found that children who suffer abuse and trauma disclose their experience only after months and years rather than days and weeks.
The experience of Italy has been mentioned by many noble Lords. I echo the wish that the Minister will assure the House that the Italian experience is being studied. It is that many victims become more willing to testify against their trafficker towards the end of the six-month period as they work through counselling and begin to recover. This happens irrespective of whether they are involved in the prosecution. The small number of residents' permits issued also refutes concerns that such a system would open the doors to a flood of applications.
In conclusion, there are two points I would make to the Minister. Can he give an assurance that the Home Office will give a lead in ensuring that the valuable experience gained by those in the frontline in West Sussex is disseminated as widely as possible to those authorities for which the problem is relatively new and where, in some cases, we are told that other forces are turning a blind eye on account of alleged priorities?
Is the Minister able to assure the House that arrangements are in place to tackle the problem at source by establishing the closest intelligence links possible in the countries where trafficking originates. This would include having a deep understanding of the culture. Let it not be forgotten that west Africa has a tradition of slavery and bondage going back many centuries, indeed, well before the commencement of the slave trade to the New World. An understanding of current practice, which can only come from an extended and substantial presence in the countries concerned, will do much to enable and encourage the authorities in the United Kingdom, who do such excellent work in this field in so many ways, to keep abreast of this huge, sinister, but hugely resourceful, practice. It is a practice which more often than not is rooted in cultures very different from our own. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's reply.
Lord Bassam of Brighton (Government Whip (technically a Lord in Waiting, HM Household); Labour)
My Lords, I want to put on record my profound agreement with an expression used by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, at the beginning of his comments. He said that this had been a most distinguished debate—distinguished by all its participants. I absolutely agree with that and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, on putting this matter before the House in the way in which she has.
I have been privileged to listen to and participate in a number of these debates—at Question Time, on Unstarred Questions, and during the passage of legislation. I am grateful to noble Lords for their concern on this issue. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, made the point that politics does not divide us on this issue. There is a shared commitment and a shared concern.
Trafficking in people is an appalling business. It is an appalling form of exploitation with a harmful, debilitating and demeaning impact on the lives of individuals, families, communities, countries and generations. To set it in the context of slavery and the history of slavery is right and proper.
I also want to put on record my firm conviction that this Government have perhaps done more than any other government in recent years to tackle this problem. It is not an easy problem and certainly the solutions are not easily found. Through the White Paper Secure Borders Safe Haven the Government set out a clear four-pronged approach—legislation, enforcement, international co-operation, prevention at source and provision for victims.
Let me deal, first, with an issue of terminology. There is a clear internationally agreed distinction between trafficking and smuggling which is expressed in the United Nations Trans-national Organised Crime Convention. According to the UN Protocol on Prevention and Suppression of Trafficking, trafficking in people involves ongoing exploitation—be it labour exploitation or sexual exploitation. It is important to distinguish between trafficking and smuggling but also to recognise that boundaries between the two are not clear-cut. While legally we can make a clear distinction, operationally we have to recognise that the criminals involved in trafficking and smuggling are often interchangeable.
The scale of smuggling is becoming clearer, with an estimated 75 per cent of those arriving in the United Kingdom to claim asylum having been facilitated by criminal groups. But trafficking is a much more elusive problem to pin down. The noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Dholakia, referred to the Home Office research contained in Stopping Traffic, published some three years ago, which estimated that anywhere between 140 and 1,400 women were trafficked to the UK every year for the purposes of sexual exploitation. It is an obvious point, but that is a very wide range of estimation. Who knows? But that is the scale.
Despite its hidden nature, trafficking is now recognised as a serious organised criminal activity on an international scale. The United Kingdom Government, in common with many other governments, have announced our determination to crack down on this evil trade. Our approach is consistent with the UN Protocol on Prevention and Suppression of Trafficking, which is the cornerstone of effective international action against it. It recognises that trafficking requires a multi-faceted response, combining elements of legislation to criminalise the activity, effective enforcement and international co- operation to tackle its trans-national nature and to provide for victims.
A number of noble Lords have paid tribute to the Government for taking tough action, particularly through legislation. The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, congratulated us on that and the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, echoed her congratulations. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred to our work, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie.
However, the lack of trafficking legislation was cited as a stumbling block to encouraging proactive police investigations. In response to this, the Nationality Immigration and Asylum Act was introduced and a new criminal offence of trafficking for control over prostitution, with a maximum penalty of 14 years—which is on a par with the penalties for drug trafficking—was introduced. A new offence as a stopgap measure to close an existing loophole was also introduced. The Sexual Offences Bill introduces more wide-ranging offences of trafficking for sexual exploitation. Work is also under way on offences for trafficking for labour exploitation, a point raised by a number of noble Lords, particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie.
These measures take into account the UK's international obligations under the UN Trafficking Protocol. We intend to ensure that our Government, in common with other EU member states, will implement by July 2004 the EU Framework Decision which has been recently adopted. That is very good progress indeed.
It is estimated that the profits from people trafficking are equal to those from drug trafficking and the effect on the lives of those involved can be just as damaging. The UN lists it as one of the three most lucrative types of organised criminal activity, alongside drugs and firearms.
Recognising this, the Proceeds of Crime Act has been brought in line with the new trafficking offences and so provides powers to seize and confiscate the criminal assets of those involved in this appalling crime. Together these provisions will provide another way of dismantling and disrupting traffickers.
The key issue will be enforcement. We need to tackle the criminality that is allowing the trade to continue. The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, referred to the National Criminal Intelligence Service and its vital and valuable work. Trafficking affects communities throughout the United Kingdom, so exercises such as Reflex bring together the key agencies including the Immigration Service, the NCIS and police forces most affected, such as the Metropolitan Police, the Kent Constabulary and the British Transport Police. The Reflex project aims to build up the intelligence picture, co-ordinate operations and provide a focal point for the operational response to human trafficking and smuggling.
During the current financial year there have been eight disruptive operational campaigns and 150 operational new developments. In 2002–03, Reflex exceeded its targets with 16 organised crime groups disrupted or dismantled.
Joint working is the key to good enforcement and good practice. A more recent scheme has been the introduction of the child protection pilot based at Heathrow, which is another joint project, this time between the Immigration Service and the Metropolitan Police. Operation Maxim is a new initiative targeting organised criminals who are in the UK illegally. It was launched by the Metropolitan Police and the Immigration Service in April, under the Reflex banner. It is an ongoing series of operations targeting criminals in a whole range of illegal activities including identity theft and human trafficking.
Several noble Lords referred to the importance of international co-operation and crime prevention. I wish to put on record our commitment to that. We will ensure that work in those countries where the problem is being exported to the United Kingdom proceeds at a pace through our network of immigration liaison officers and is entirely in line with the work outlined in the EU framework decision.
Our overseas network has been enhanced with liaison officers based at Europol and with joint working teams in key transit countries such as Bosnia and Romania. We intend to expand on those.
I would like to talk about protection and support, but I can probably best achieve that by turning to some of the questions asked by noble Lords. There were many questions and I am appreciative of the advance information that was given to me about them. I know that in the time allowed I will not be able to respond to all of them, but I will ensure that the responses that have been prepared will be circulated to all noble Lords who have participated in this evening's debate.
Particular attention focused on the work that the West Sussex social services department has had to undertake because of the problems of having Gatwick within its boundary. It is correct that between 1995 and 2002, 71 children, who had arrived on their own at Gatwick claiming asylum, disappeared from West Sussex social services. Thankfully, only three children have been recorded as missing in the current year. We should emphasise that the majority of children that are missing from care in the UK will have decided to leave for various reasons. They would probably not want to return to their country of origin on their 18th birthday and perhaps have found work elsewhere or moved to another area. The majority of those children are not suspected of having been trafficked.
It is also important to note that social services departments do not have the power to prevent a minor from leaving their care. That is an interesting observation that raises many difficult issues for social services and I am sure that noble Lords will be mindful of it. It is up to social services to decide how best to provide support services for children in need in their area, including accommodation for children who are the victims of trafficking. Although there is no current specific ear-marked funding for such services, we allocate funding for councils with specific social services responsibilities on the basis of the need of their population. A weighted capitation formula is used to determine that need. Obviously, it reflects the pressure on those services of particular problems such as this one.
The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, asked a specific and useful question about the number of victims who had come forward through Eaves Housing. I can advise her that some 29 have been received by Eaves Housing and are receiving services through that organisation.
Many other questions were asked in the debate. I wanted to try to respond to one or two but I do not think there is sufficient time. However, as I said, I shall respond to those very specific questions. I respect entirely the wish for additional information which many noble Lords expressed. Under cover of letter, I shall ensure that all those points are covered.
This has been an important debate which has focused on the key and crucial issues. I am most grateful to all noble Lords who participated. This debate will need to continue. We need to do the maximum possible to prevent this appalling international trade and to counter it in every way possible.