Many teenage survivors of modern slavery are being sent back to nations where they have no relatives and are again at risk of being targeted by traffickers, according to new data.
Britain is refusing to grant asylum to former child slaves from places such as Vietnam, Eritrea and Afghanistan, with more than 275 non-European victims deported since 2012 – despite fears that many will fall back into the hands of traffickers.
According to data from the Thomson Reuters Foundation, between 2015 and 2017 the government denied asylum to 183 people trafficked or enslaved as children – double the total for the previous three years.
The data, uncovered under the Freedom of Information Act, exposes for the first time the number of ex-slaves refused refugee status after turning 18.
The rise in rejections may dissuade other young victims from coming forward, lawyers say.
People have been sent back to countries including Eritrea. Image Credit: David Stanley / Flickr
Many teenage survivors are then deported to nations where they have no relatives and fall prey, once again, to traffickers. This is according to charities, who say the spike in asylum denials undermines Britain’s vow to lead global efforts to end slavery.
“It is incredibly shocking … that the situation is getting worse for young victims of trafficking,” said Catherine Baker, policy officer at the anti-child trafficking charity ECPAT UK.
They are being returned to countries where they have a high risk of being re-trafficked.
Catherine Baker, ECPAT UK
“They are being returned to countries where they have a high risk of being re-trafficked,” she added. “If the government is serious about protecting child victims of human trafficking, it needs to ensure that they have long-term stability and support.”
A spokesman for Britain’s Home Office said the country had a “proud history” of granting asylum to those in need of protection, and that it assessed each case on its individual merits.
It is unknown how many young former trafficking victims are granted refugee status once they turn 17-and-a-half, when their automatic right to stay in Britain as child asylum seekers ends.
“We should be ashamed as a nation,” Labour MP Sarah Champion added, referring to the figures.
Construction is one of the industries thought to be the most problematic. Image Credit: Bradley / Unsplash
In Britain, 2,118 children suspected of being trafficking victims were referred to the government last year, up 66 per cent on 2016, and marking the highest annual number on record.
While about a third were British, many of whom were used as drug runners, hundreds were also trafficked from countries such as Vietnam, Sudan, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Iraq, according to government figures.
Many were trapped in sexual exploitation, domestic servitude or forced labour
And if they fear being deported, they will be put off from coming forward and seeking help.
Tamara Barnett, Human Trafficking Foundation
Britain is considered an international leader in the fight against slavery, having passed the 2015 Modern Slavery Act to jail traffickers for life, better protect vulnerable people, and compel large businesses to address the threat of forced labour.
Yet child victims of slavery still have no guarantee of specialist support or time to remain under the law.
“And if they fear being deported, they will be put off from coming forward and seeking help, and will instead disappear and go off the radar,” said Tamara Barnett, projects leader at the Human Trafficking Foundation. “That is a terrifying situation.”
More than a quarter of all trafficked children rescued and placed in local authority care go missing at least once – with Vietnamese the most likely to disappear – according to ECPAT UK.
Struggle After Slavery
Some people are also forced to work on cannabis farms. Image Credit: Pixabay
Many child slaves are given to traffickers by parents hoping they will have a better life in Britain, but end up being sexually abused or forced to work in cannabis farms and nail salons – often controlled with the threat of violence or revenge on relatives.
Yet those who escape or are rescued from slavery face a fresh struggle when they have to apply for asylum as adults, said Ahmed Aydeed, a director at the law firm Duncan Lewis.
“Many of the young people we work with have lost contact with their families and have suffered torture and sexual assault,” he explains. “Then they have this fear of being deported or prosecuted.”
The system is slow and letting down many young victims of trafficking. There is a domino effect of failings.
Philippa Southwell, Bird Solicitors
Many of the dozens of young trafficking victims refused asylum in Britain each year are likely ejected due to convictions for crimes they were forced to commit in captivity, such as drug offences, adds Philippa Southwell of Birds Solicitors.
Child slaves discovered during police raids are often treated as criminals rather than victims, and face deportation once they have finished their prison sentences – yet many have little idea about their status or fate, the solicitor said.
“The system is slow and letting down many young victims of trafficking. There is a domino effect of failings. Britain is failing to identify forced criminality.”