Anti-slavery day 2021

Let’s start with the big point first, slavery isn’t something which happens “over there”. It’s something which happens right here on your doorstep, and it is happening right now. “Modern Slavery” is a broad term, to say the least. It encompasses many different things, and among them the government lists child trafficking, for obvious reasons. It can also conjure up images which don’t necessarily match with reality, and which therefore mean people are less likely to spot victims of child trafficking. 

Traffickers recruit anywhere, often the same places you will be visiting, like shopping centres, restaurants. They will also target the very places children should feel safest, like schools and after-school clubs. Even in their own homes through social media and the internet. They’re recruiting vulnerable children into lives of exploitation; be that by putting them to work in nail bars, factories, as servants, on our streets or behind closed doors. Always without freedom, without pay, without play. Children who have been trafficked are often so terrified and ‘brainwashed’ by their trafficker that [after being rescued and taken into care] they will leave at the first possible opportunity and return to their abuser.

Perhaps it is easier to think of it as “exploitation”. We all know that people can be exploited in a multitude of ways, which might help to embed just how widespread and serious an issue this is in a way which the term “modern slavery” doesn’t necessarily do. Whatever term you use though this is a “trade” which is destroying lives, and it is getting worse. Last year more children than ever before were confirmed as the victims of child trafficking, and those are just the ones who were identified, so many others go unnoticed. In total 4,946 potential victims of child trafficking were exploited according to data from the government’s National Referral Mechanism. That’s a 10 percent increase on the previous year, and 47% of all people identified as potentially having been trafficked in the UK. 

The three most common nationalities for people who were trafficked were Albania, Vietnam and the UK. Yes, the UK. This is why it is so important not to see this as an issue “over there”, or “coming into the country”. 

This Anti-slavery day, and every other day, we need to push for policies which put the survivors first, which priotise child protection over their immigration statuses and which raise awareness that this is an issue happening on our doorstep right now. We face a problem though, certain elements of current legislation aren’t prioritising their welfare, instead they are making it harder for people to come forward and be recognised as having been trafficked. 

Today, on Anti-Slavery Day, a piece of legislation known as the Judicial Review and Courts Bill is back in front of Parliament. It has been argued that, among other things, this will help speed up the court system by limiting the potential that people have to appeal judgements, particularly in immigration and asylum cases, which may include children who have been trafficked. How though? Well, first off it will impact on children who may have been trafficked when they have relied on a history of trafficking as the basis for an application for asylum or human rights protection and have had their appeal to the First-tier Tribunal dismissed. Currently they can then seek permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal. This is a two-stage process. Firstly, they have to apply for permission from the First-tier Tribunal and, if this is refused, they can renew their application for permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal. 

These are only paper applications and are considered by a judge on their own. The Judge will have about 12 paper applications to consider in a day and, therefore, consideration may be cursory. In addition, the Judge has to find an error of law – it is not sufficient just to conclude that on the evidence they would have reached a different decision. 

Because of the limited time provided for consideration of applications for permission to appeal, there are opportunities for errors. This is because the Judge is only likely to read a limited amount of the papers in the file e.g. the decision, the grounds of appeal etc and may easily miss evidence or case law that has been overlooked by the First-tier Judge. Realistically Upper Tribunal Judges do not have the breadth of experience and knowledge of administrative judges and could miss a new and complicated issue of law that had yet to be argued in the more limited migration field of law.

We need more safeguards for children who have been trafficked, not fewer, and this bill removes an essential “back-stop” to avoid miscarriages of justice and seeing those who have been trafficked wrongly refused the chance to live in safety and security.

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