Anti-trafficking Policy not Followed

A judge recently ruled that the Home Secretary was departing from her own policy on identifying victims of trafficking, and the deportation of hundreds of asylum seekers who arrived in the UK on small boats could be halted.

Three potential victims of trafficking, two from Sudan and one from Eritrea brought the high court case.  Trafficking in Libya is well reported and there is a high risk that asylum seekers who have passed through the country have been trafficked.

Home Secretary, Priti Patel has departed from her own published policy to ask asylum seekers questions about their journeys to the UK, ever since the beginning of he pandemic.

The claimants say they were not questioned about their journey when Home Office officials interviewed them after their recent arrivals to the UK.  All three were placed in immigration detention and were due to be removed from the UK until they engaged lawyers who identified that they were indeed potential victims of trafficking.  At that point their removals were halted.

The judge, Mr Justice Fordham said: “It is strongly arguable that the Home Secretary is acting unlawfully in curtailing asylum screening interviews by asking a narrower set of questions than those that are identified in the published policy guidance”.

The Home Office said that a shortened version of questions were asked in asylum seekers interviews due to the pandemic.  Counsel for the Home Secretary, Jack Holborn, told the court: “Our position is it’s a justified departure from the published policy and it doesn’t really matter”.

But Mr Justice Fordham said he believed it was a departure “without good reason”.  He added: “There is, in my judgement, a serious risk of injustice and irreversible harm from this question to be unasked and unanswered”.

The recent hearing was an application for an urgent order before a full hearing takes place in December.

Fordham made an order that all asylum screening interviews must ask people to outline their journey to the UK.  The inclusion of this question means that hundreds of potential victims of trafficking cannot be deported until their trafficking cases have been fully investigated, a process which can take several months.

Duncan Lewis Solicitors, Maria Thomas, who represented the three asylum seekers said: “This judgement is extremely important for those who are at risk of unlawful detention and removal in the coming weeks and months”.  “We welcome the court’s intervention in relation to an unpublished policy, which deliberately omits important questions designed to identify vulnerable individuals who may be victims of trafficking, and in fact contradicts the published guidance”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The judge did not consider or make a ruling on the lawfulness of the policy at this hearing and indeed declared that he would not consider that issue here”.

“This was an interim hearing considering whether some interim measures should be put in place prior to consideration of the claim in December”.

“We remain determined to fix the broken asylum system so that it is firm and fair.  We are also committed to tackling modern slavery and identifying and supporting victims in such cases, there are opportunities for people to raise their claims of trafficking”.