Victims of child trafficking denied right to stay in the UK

New data has revealed that a significant number of young people are put at risk of deportation by the Home Office.

One such child, called Kobe, was in his final year at primary school when a drug gang recruited him. By then he had already been passed around several different foster homes and met so many social workers that he lost track of their names. Aged 17 he has now been identified by the UK government as a child victim of trafficking.

When Theresa May was prime minister she attempted to make tackling modern slavery a legacy of her premiership.  The current government has also been keen to flag its credentials.  Victoria Atkins, Home Office minister, earlier this year stated she was committed to ‘safeguarding victims of this horrific crime’.

Kobe has however, been told that he is to be sent back to Ghana, a west African country he has no memory of since arriving in London when he was aged 5.  He is one of thousands of child victims of trafficking at risk of deportation as a result of the Home Office’s ‘hostile’ immigration policies.

Data received on the 10th anniversary of the UK’s Anti-Slavery Day – introduced to mark the governments’ commitment to ending exploitation – reveal that out of almost 4,700 confirmed foreign victims of trafficking, just 28 children were granted leave to remain in the UK over a four year period.  These figures have shocked anti-slavery campaigners.

The data – the first time the immigration outcomes for child victims of trafficking has been so comprehensively revealed – indicates the sizeable number of vulnerable victims put at risk of deportation upon turning 18, by the Home Office.

Between 2016 and 2019, 4,695 individuals were recognised as foreign modern slavery victims in the UK.  Of these, 549 adults and just 0.6% of the total -28 children – were granted discretionary leave to remain as trafficking victims, an immigration status that gives people a temporary right to stay in the UK if they have suffered extreme hardship.

The Home Office have refused to reveal how many of the 4,695 victims were children, but based on recent referrals to the government system to identify trafficking victims, experts believe it could be up to half.

The data obtained under freedom of information, challenges the claim that Britain is a world leader in tackling modern slavery, with significant numbers of those trafficked as children at risk of deportation and facing the threat of traffickers in their home countries.

Chief executive of campaigning charity Every Child Protected Against Trafficking, Patricia Durr, said: “We were shocked to find that, in a four year period, only 28 child victims of trafficking were granted leave to stay at the discretion of the home secretary.  The organisation said the data took months of wrangling to obtain and added that the Home Office had previously denied it evcn collected detailed information linking victims of trafficking to immigration decisions.

“It is equally shocking that we know this through pursuing Freedom of Information requests, and we still only have a partial picture of immigration outcomes for children, Durr added.

Among the gaps in the data is the actual length of the discretionary leave granted for the 28 children, though the figures show the ‘extremely limited’ length granted for both adults and children trafficking victims.

For nearly 74% of all trafficking victims granted discretionary leave, the period lasted between seven months to a year.  A further 7.8% were given even less, between zero and six months.

A spokesperson for Ecpat UK said that such short periods appeared to contravene international law which says governments must offer children discretionary leave in accordance with the ‘best interests of the child’ and a ‘durable solution’.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The government is determined to end the abhorrent exploitation of children and young people and to tackle the criminal gangs that put them at risk.  In the year to August 2020, 65% of confirmed victims of modern slavery who were considered for discretionary leave to remain were granted it, or already had or were granted a higher form of leave”.