Clause 50 - No entitlement to additional recovery period etc

Part of Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:45 am ar 2 Tachwedd 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office) 9:45, 2 Tachwedd 2021

Clause 50, as drafted, should not stand part of the Bill. The amendment would ensure that those exploited as children will not be denied additional recovery periods if they are re-trafficked or if additional periods of trafficking are disclosed. Children, in particular, who make up 47% of those referred to the national referral mechanism, are at serious risk of being trafficked and going missing from care. In 2017, one in four identified trafficked children were reported as going missing. The number of children referred to the NRM is also rising, with last year seeing an almost 10% increase compared with the previous year. The average number of missing incidents for each trafficked child has also increased, from 2.4 to 7.4 between 2014-15 and 2017-18. Therefore, amendment 180 is even more vital, considering the worrying trends we are seeing.

Every Child Protected Against Trafficking UK has warned that clause 50

“may severely impact child trafficking survivors” who are at high risk of going missing and being re-trafficked, particularly when

“they transition to adulthood and require access to support and protection through the NRM.”

To make that point, I want to share a real-world case study provided by ECPAT UK that demonstrates why our amendment is necessary.

Huang was referred to the local authority children's services at age 17, following a police operation in a nail bar. He was also referred as a potential victim of trafficking into the NRM and received a positive reasonable grounds decision. He was accommodated by the local authority. He told his support worker that he had been scared because his family back home were receiving threats to pay back his debt. Shortly after, he went missing. He was found by the police just after his 18th birthday and went on to develop trust with his lawyer, where he disclosed for the first time a significant period of exploitation in Vietnam, across Europe and in the UK, prior to being found in the nail bar. He remains in fear, and while the dangers facing his family back home persist, sadly, there is still a high likelihood that he will go missing again.

Without amendment 180, Huang may be unable to be referred to the NRM again, given the new disclosure of previously unknown periods of exploitation. As he is now 18, he would not be looked after by children’s services. Clause 50, as it stands, will place him at great risk of subsequent re-trafficking in the absence of access to safe accommodation and support through the NRM during his reflection and recovery period.

The increase in the number of British children in the NRM in relation to child criminal exploitation gives us further cause for concern. I recently met officers from the Metropolitan Police Service who are leading the response on trafficking, slavery and exploitation. They told me that it is becoming standard practice that when a child or young person is sent on their first county lines journey, their exploiter will arrange for them to be robbed of the drugs they have been instructed to sell. When they then have to come back and explain what has happened, they are immediately told they have to work off the value of the drugs. That traps them in debt bondage, even though the real criminal will have recovered the drugs, having arranged what can sometimes be a particularly violent mugging in the first place, so in reality there is no debt.

It would not be unusual for children in such vulnerable and exploited positions to be identified by the authorities but then go missing from the NRM because of the risks that persist. They must be treated as a safeguarding concern and not by way of immigration compliance, not least because so many of those children are British nationals. So I ask the Minister again: why are children subject to clause 50, given their particular vulnerabilities? Amendment 180 seeks to right that wrong. I am sure all colleagues will agree that a child rights-centred approach, which ensures children’s safety and their protection, must be a priority. I therefore hope the Minister will reflect on the points we have made and accept Amendment 180.

More broadly, clause 50 has the potential to exclude trafficked children and adults from being identified following re-trafficking, thereby leaving them unable to access the support they should be entitled to. I worry that with this clause the Government are suggesting that making repeat claims of having been trafficked undermines someone’s credibility. However, we also know that traffickers are increasingly coaching those they are exploiting on what to say should they be identified by authorities. An expectation is placed on the victim that they will return to their exploiters due to their perceived debt bondage, in order to avoid consequences for them or often their families.

Re-trafficking has increasingly become a part of a trafficker’s operating model, so why are we not responding to that? The changes negatively affect the victim and not the perpetrator of such crimes. It also appears to contradict the identified need for individual assessment and support, as required under ECAT. The Government have described the clause as necessary

“to prevent the recovery period being misused by those wishing to extend their stay in the UK and to remove unnecessary support and barriers to removal where these are not needed”.

Will the Minister present the evidence to support that claim? That explanation fails, not least, to recognise that the most common nationality of all referrals to the NRM for victims of modern slavery in 2020 was that of UK nationals, primarily referred for criminal exploitation. We know that children make up the lion’s share of those referrals. Does that not make the Government stop and think about what is in the clause?

There is a fear that the NRM is being misused by those wishing to extend their stay in the UK. Without amendment 180, the clause means that we are sending children, both migrant and British, back into the arms of their exploiters. We plead with the Minister to think again about the clause. We cannot see it stand part of the Bill.