Theresa May wants her legacy to be about being a leader in fighting modern slavery. But new data obtained by Buzzfeed news paints a starkly different picture: on May’s watch hundreds of child trafficking victims in the UK have been put at risk of deportation.
Data shows that the Home Office rejected 310 applications for discretionary leave to remain (the right to stay in the country) and 65 asylum claims made by child victims of modern slavery between April 2017 and the end of 2018. These rejections mean these child victims can be removed from the country, often sent back to the conditions in which they were first trafficked.
MP Frank Field called out the government’s behavior this week.
“How is it that one side of the Home Office’s brain is endlessly seeking means to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act, when the other side of that brain is devising ways of deporting children recognised as victims of slavery quite possibly so they can be re-enslaved?” he said.
Buzzfeed News talked to one child survivor of trafficking:
Linh was 16 when she left a life of poverty and violence in Vietnam for England. Just weeks later, she was gang-raped by her traffickers.
The rape came to light only after a British doctor told her she had a sexually transmitted disease. “I was a virgin before I left Vietnam and I am not a virgin anymore” is the only way she could articulate to BuzzFeed News what happened when she became a domestic slave.
When the police arrested her at a Manchester nail salon in September 2017, Linh was relieved — she thought she was finally about to get help. The good news came eight months later: The UK authorities recognised her as a victim of modern slavery.
But days after her 18th birthday, the government that had pledged so loudly to help victims like Linh rejected her asylum claim and informed her that she would be sent back to the country of her traffickers.
“She’s been gang-raped and brutalised, and you’re now saying you’re refusing her right to stay?” her foster father said. “The default is to reject. It is brutal for the children.”
Alarmingly, this pattern is common according to survivor advocates and lawyers.
“I think that they do it so that they’re easier to deport,” said Linh’s lawyer Natalia Fulop.
“I’ve seen a pattern where the Home Office will wait till right after they’re 18 years old and then reject their application.”
Carita Thomas, a solicitor at the Anti-Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit, explained that the Home Office is undermining its own rhetoric on supporting survivors by forcing child victims to fight for the right to stay in the country.
“The government can’t hold itself out as a world leader in protecting victims of modern slavery,” she said, “when the experience of victims going through the [immigration] process can be worse than their experiences of exploitation.”