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Western Balkans

Volume 470: debated on Tuesday 8 January 2008

7. What recent steps have been taken by the Drugs and International Crime Department in co-operation with the border authorities of states of the western Balkans to reduce illegal immigration and trafficking of people. (175897)

Through its Drugs and International Crime Department, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office contributed about £1.5 million in 2005 to 2007 for capacity building of law enforcement in the Balkans, including awareness-raising projects aimed at potential victims in Romania and Bulgaria. We have helped fund three projects in Serbia, three in Albania, two in Macedonia and one in Bosnia. I have met the Interior Ministers of Romania, Bulgaria and Albania to discuss how best to tackle crimes such as illegal immigration, drugs and human trafficking through those countries.

As one of the principal objectives of the Drugs and International Crime Department is the dismantling of trafficking groups, and as British taxpayers paid tens of millions of pounds for that department, will the Minister say how many trafficking groups have been dismantled in the western Balkans in each of the past five years? How much money has been taken from the traffickers and put into the British taxpayers’ purse and how much money has been given to the victims of trafficking in the western Balkans as a result of the dismantling of such groups? Has any of the money—

I will certainly try to supply the hon. Gentleman with the figures that he asks for. I commend the work that he has done and recognise that in forming an all-party group in this House he has drawn attention to an extremely serious crime. He understands, and I hope that he will keep telling people, that trying to break up those routes and those gangs is very difficult and becoming more difficult, because they are often financed by additional smuggling of drugs, whether Afghan-based heroin or the cocaine that is increasingly coming through that route into western Europe. It is a big job. There are people doing some very brave things in the western Balkans in trying to break up those gangs. I will try to get the figures that the hon. Gentleman asked for, because I do not know them offhand.

The Council of Europe convention on human trafficking comes into force next month, yet we are still to ratify it. The Government say that some legislative changes are required. Will they tell us what those changes are, and publish a timetable for them so that we can get on and help the victims of trafficking?

The hon. Gentleman is right to attract our attention to this. Implementing the convention is a key part of the comprehensive United Kingdom action plan on tackling human trafficking. Some of the other signatories to the convention have legal systems that allow or require ratification before implementation; ours does not. We intend to implement the measures, in effect, before formal ratification. As the hon. Gentleman hinted, the complexity of some of the issues to be resolved, including the likelihood of secondary and primary legislation and the need fully to consult stakeholders, means that ratification will take time. We want to ratify as soon as possible, but we believe that getting the arrangements right so that they work on the ground is much more important than political posturing.