Skip to main content

Child Trafficking

Volume 807: debated on Monday 16 November 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the efficacy of the process for child victims of trafficking to seek leave to remain in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, UK children continue to account for a large proportion of national referral mechanism referrals. Children from overseas who are victims of trafficking may benefit from a grant of leave to remain under a number of different routes, depending on their individual circumstances. Unaccompanied children are only ever returned to their country of origin if safe and adequate reception arrangements are in place.

The Minister will be aware of the ECPAT UK report in the Guardian which spoke of those seeking solace in this country between 2016 and 2019. Of the 4,695 victims of people trafficking who applied for status in the UK, 2,000—half of them—are likely to have been children, yet only 28 were granted leave to remain in the UK? Why only 28? Also, what has happened to the other 2,000 who applied? Does the policy remain the same, or will we have a change of policy and a bigger heart?

I assure the noble Lord that we have a very big heart indeed; 81% of decisions on asylum claims from unaccompanied children resulted in a grant of some form of leave, 75% of which were grants of asylum or humanitarian protection. The article to which he refers is slightly misleading, in that many of the children who come to this country get leave under asylum grants.

My Lords, can the Minister publish and place in the Library a copy of the analysis that she has just given? She indicated that the situation is very different from the figure of 28 to which the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, referred. Given the Prime Minister’s announcement last week that he wished to see a kinder, gentler, more inclusive approach by his Government, would this not be the right place to start? With Christmas coming, can the Government not give some good news to these children?

I hope that I have explained that the broader context shows this country to be incredibly generous. The FoI might be looked at again to provide that broader context analysis. I am sure that it will be placed in the Library for noble Lords to see.

Can my noble friend confirm whether the Home Office removes unaccompanied children, including victims of trafficking?

As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, it is important to highlight that 75% of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who seek protection are granted it. It is our long-standing position that we will return unaccompanied children to their country of origin only where it has been established, including by the courts, that the child has no lawful basis to remain in the UK and where safe and adequate arrangements are in place in their country of origin.

My Lords, child victims of human trafficking should always be considered for the grant of leave to remain in the United Kingdom, as was agreed some time ago, indefinitely. Their best interests should be looked at as the primary factor in determining their length of stay or whether they stay indefinitely. They are victims of a crime. They do not choose to be trafficked.

I am not sure what the question was. All I can say is that I absolutely agree with the premise that, first and foremost, they are victims of a crime. In supporting them, that is exactly how they should be treated—as victims first.

My Lords, human trafficking is more lucrative than indulging in drugs. There is substantial evidence that women are brought into this country, particularly from countries such as Romania, and used for sexual trafficking by those who exploit them. Now that we have anti-slavery legislation, what is being done to stop the vile trafficking in human beings?

The noble Lord is absolutely right that crime is at the heart of this and that women play a big part in the lucrativeness of that crime. We have our modern slavery Bill, and the Home Secretary will be having further discussions with my noble friend Lord McColl on how we deal with victims of trafficking. This country has been a very safe refuge for people genuinely fleeing traffickers.

My Lords, where does the backlog on NRM cases currently stand? How long does my noble friend estimate it will take to clear?

The single competent authority recently launched a recruitment campaign to bring in 371 new operational staff members. This will significantly reduce the decision-making period so that victims can be given certainty, which is absolutely right.

The Minister said that the figures quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, were misleading. Could she give some more specific information? How many identified child victims of trafficking were denied leave to remain by the Home Office between 2016 and 2019? Are they in the tens or the hundreds? How many identified children of human trafficking have been deported by the Home Office over the last four years?

As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, the grant rate is 75%. No child is deported; a child will be returned to their country of origin only if there are safe and adequate reception arrangements in place. It is important to realise that there is a far more generous leave provision under an asylum claim than under discretionary leave to remain. Discretionary leave to remain is always the last consideration and leave of asylum is quite often the first—and a far more generous—one.

My Lords, the importance of certainty and stability for victims of modern slavery cannot be underestimated. Not having a secure immigration status not only causes great anxiety and harms the well-being of victims but means that they are unlikely to engage with police investigations, with vital intelligence and evidence thereby being lost. When will the Government offer all confirmed victims of modern slavery a guaranteed period of leave after they leave the support of the victim care contract?

I agree that certainty is crucial for anyone who has undergone such a trauma. A discretionary leave to remain provision is already in place. On the question of when a conclusive grant decision is made, this Government are committed to supporting people who have undergone that trauma, but the two do not necessarily go together. Sometimes they do, but we should not conflate immigration with the support needed for victims of modern slavery. They do not necessarily go hand in glove. However, I understand my noble friend’s premise—that people need support when they are most vulnerable.

My Lords, the Minister referred on more than one occasion to the generosity of the British Government in that 75% of unaccompanied child refugees are given a status to remain here, usually asylum status. Does she not agree that the majority of them have been trafficked, and that it would be far better to give them safe and legal routes to the UK rather than having them become victims of traffickers, with all the risks of the dangerous journey across the channel?

The noble Lord goes to the heart of the problem: traffickers are at the heart of all these awful crimes, some of which result in the deaths of people crossing the channel and suchlike. Safe and legal routes are at the heart of our philosophy, as my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has laid out.