I rise to speak about detention centres, largely because of a case I came across a couple of years ago. A young lady—it was not clear exactly what age she was—had been trafficked to the UK from Nigeria via Tripoli. Initially everything was great, but then she was held in London and put to work as a sex worker. An attempt was then made to traffic her to a gang in Holland using false documentation. At that point she was arrested and detained.
That young lady was believed to be 13, although nobody could be certain because she spoke an extremely rare dialect from rural Nigeria, and she was also in a state of absolute fear, not just of the authorities, but, more powerfully for her, because she believed that she had been subject to juju before leaving Nigeria. As a result of her cultural upbringing, she believed that were she to speak about what her traffickers had done, she would die. Indeed, when she started to develop symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection after being detained, she believed that it was the result of juju because she had failed.
That young lady was then treated as an adult in the criminal justice system because the false documents that her traffickers had used belonged to a Dutch national who was considerably older. She spent many weeks in the criminal justice system until questions started to be asked about how old she actually was. I will not go into the details of the case, but her conviction was eventually overturned and she was given the right to remain in the United Kingdom. It was a harrowing case, by anyone’s definition, and for someone who is believed to have been as young as 13. When people who are that vulnerable find themselves in a detention centre, they need more than basic medical attention; we must also make efforts to understand things as basic as how old they are.
I know that the Minister and his Department have taken tremendous strides in recent years to try to move this forward, and I welcome the appointment of the inquiry into how we can treat those who are detained more humanely. We must also accept that there are people in this country illegally who are abusing the system. It is right that they should be removed speedily, not detained for prolonged periods and treated in a way that we would not even treat a criminal.
In all of this we must think about the people, because they are often frightened and vulnerable, having come here on their own or as victims of gangs. Often they have been through absolute hell before the authorities find them. That young lady’s arrest might have been terrifying for her, but it was also a new beginning in her life. She broke free from her traffickers and started to understand that juju was not going to kill her. The people supporting her were able to start to put right the abuse she had suffered.
Sadly, that was just one case of many. Members who represent constituencies in and around London will have seen much more evidence of trafficking than those who represent more rural constituencies, but these cases are out there. I urge the Minister to continue doing all he can to ensure that the vulnerable are protected in the system.