Thousands of victims of child trafficking denied right to stay in the UK

Theresa May vowed to combat the ‘barbaric evil’ that is modern slavery when she was elected prime minister. Photograph: Parliament TV


New data reveals significant number of young vulnerable people put at risk of deportation by the Home Office

Kobe was in his final year at primary school when a drug gang recruited him. By then he’d been passed around seven different foster placements and met so many social workers he’d lost track of their names. Aged 17, Kobe was identified by the UK government as a child victim of trafficking.

When Theresa May became prime minister she attempted to make tackling modern slavery a legacy of her premiership. The current government has also been keen to flag its credentials. Earlier this year, the Home Office minister Victoria Atkins stated she was committed to “safeguarding victims of this horrific crime”.

But Kobe has been told he will be sent back to Ghana, a west African country he has no memory of since arriving in London aged five. He is one of thousands of child victims of trafficking at risk of deportation as a result of the Home Office’s “hostile” immigration policies.

Data released today on the 10th anniversary of the UK’s Anti-Slavery Day – introduced to mark the government’s commitment to ending exploitation – reveal that of almost 4,700 confirmed foreign victims of trafficking, just 28 children were granted leave to remain in the UK over a four-year-period. The figures have shocked anti-slavery campaigners.

The data – the first time the immigration outcomes for child victims of trafficking has been so comprehensively revealed – indicate the sizeable number of vulnerable victims put at risk of deportation by the Home Office upon turning 18.

Between 2016 and 2019, 4,695 individuals were recognised as foreign modern slavery victims in the UK. Of these, 549 adults and just 0.6% of the total – 28 – children were granted discretionary leave to remain as trafficking victims, an immigration status that gives people a temporary right to stay in the UK if they have suffered extreme hardship.

The Home Office has refused to reveal how many of the 4,695 victims were children, but based on recent referrals to the government system to identify trafficking victims, experts believe it could be up to half.

Yet the data, obtained under freedom of information, challenges the claim that Britain is a world leader in tackling modern slavery, with significant numbers of those trafficked as children at risk of deportation and facing the threat of traffickers in their home countries.

Patricia Durr, chief executive of campaigning charity Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (Ecpat UK), said: “We were shocked to find that, in a four-year period, only 28 child victims of trafficking were granted leave to stay at the discretion of the home secretary. The organisation said the data took months of wrangling to obtain and added that the Home Office had previously denied it even collected detailed information linking victims of trafficking to immigration decisions.

“It is equally shocking that we only know this through pursuing Freedom of Information requests, and we still only have a partial picture of immigration outcomes for children,” Durr added.

Among the gaps in data is the actual length of the discretionary leave granted for the 28 children, though the figures show the “extremely limited” length granted for both adult and children trafficking victims.

For nearly three-quarters (74%) of all trafficking victims granted discretionary leave, the period lasted between seven months to a year. A further 7.8% were given even less, between zero and six months.

A spokesperson for Ecpat UK said such short periods appeared to contravene international law which says governments must offer children discretionary leave in accordance with the “best interests of the child” and a “durable solution”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The government is determined to end the abhorrent exploitation of children and young people and to tackle the criminal gangs that put them at risk. In the year to August 2020, 65% of confirmed victims of modern slavery who were considered for discretionary leave to remain were granted it, or already had or were granted a higher form of leave.”



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