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Asylum Claims: Child Trafficking

Volume 801: debated on Thursday 16 January 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the Home Office’s policy on the processing of an asylum claim when an applicant says they have been the victim of child trafficking.

My Lords, just under half of all child trafficking victims identified in the UK are British citizens and are not subject to immigration control. If a child is thought to be a victim of trafficking, their safety and welfare will be addressed as a priority. Where an unaccompanied child is thought to be a victim of trafficking, their asylum claim will usually be processed after a conclusive grounds decision on whether they are a victim of trafficking.

I thank the Minister for her response, but is she aware that where an individual police force fails to investigate a complaint of child trafficking, the Home Office is using the fact that the police did not investigate to discredit the victim and as a reason not to grant asylum? The victim is therefore left without any support and is denied justice. Their only option is to battle it out through the courts. Could the Minister say whether this is Home Office policy?

It is certainly not Home Office policy that a child who has been trafficked should not receive the support they so need through the various agencies that can support them. In fact, if that child is an unaccompanied child, they will be in the care of a local authority from which they will have all the support they need.

My Lords, the United Nations reports that one migrant child goes missing or is reported dead every single day. At the end of this month, together with colleagues from both Houses, I will take a report through the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on protecting vulnerable migrant children. Does the Minister agree that we can show the best of being British: that, although we are leaving the European Union, we can take a moral lead if we can tell our European colleagues that this Government have accepted the Dubs amendment?

My Lords, I agreed with the noble Lord almost until the end. We can show our European partners what our record looks like on taking children who need our refuge and support. Yesterday, I gave the history of what we have done and set out what we intend to do. Next year, we intend to take 5,000 people through resettlement schemes. I am proud of our record; we are an example to all the states in Europe.

Will the Minister update the House on any progress that is being made on the provision of independent guardians and advocates for victims of modern slavery?

As the right reverend Prelate may know, independent child trafficking guardians are currently operational in a third of all local authorities in England and Wales, and we currently remain committed to the rollout nationally.

My Lords, what would a victim of child trafficking have to demonstrate to satisfy the Home Office that they are a victim?

Usually, a victim of child trafficking is an extremely traumatised individual; that should be evident. I am sure there are assessments of vulnerability. In particular, the circumstances in which a child arrived in the UK might indicate that they are a victim of child trafficking. It may also, however, be established through the course of their seeking asylum here that they are a victim of trafficking. It does not always come out initially.

My Lords, like the right reverend Prelate, I want to ask about the progress of the scheme for independent child trafficking guardians, following the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner saying that we should

“ensure that all child victims of slavery are fully supported towards safety.”

The role of the guardians is of course to support. In October, I asked the Minister whether the piloting and valuation of the scheme was going so slowly as to jeopardise the full rollout which was recommended by the recent independent review. Can she reassure me in any way that the Government have not put this into the long grass and are not seeking, by piloting for such a long period, to avoid the full implementation of the scheme?

The noble Baroness is right to raise that point. Of course, most schemes are subject to a piloting process to enable us—as the noble Baroness says—to evaluate them and make sure they are working well before full rollout. I can confirm that that is the situation and that we anticipate full national rollout pending the full evaluation.

My Lords, will the Minister return to the answer that she gave to the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, about the Dubs amendment? Although the Government say—I believe the Minister—that they do not intend to change the policy, many of us are therefore bewildered that the amendment incorporated by your Lordships’ House into the legislation will be removed. If there is a Division here next week, many will have to vote with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, because they want to see that policy retained in law. Will the Minister go back to her colleagues, especially to the Home Secretary, explain the situation in which many here now find themselves and seek to find a way to prevent a Division being necessary?

The noble Lord is absolutely right that the policy has not changed. Our commitment to include Clause 37 in the Bill shows our commitment to unaccompanied child refugees seeking family reunion. We have already been in touch with the Commission about how that reciprocity would work going forward.

My Lords, will the Minister do all she can to persuade police forces to restore the specialist child protection teams, many of which have been withdrawn and seen their work handed over to general policing at the expense of the well-being of children?

I concur with the noble Lord that safeguarding has to be at the heart of what all public services provide, particularly for the police, because it may not be initially evident that a child is traumatised after being trafficked. I will certainly take that point back.