image

Human trafficking

Chinese women trafficked to UK for sex languish in notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre

  • Campaigners say victims being locked up for long periods and being denied medical help
  • The number of Chinese women entering detention has more than doubled in a two-year period
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 December, 2018, 12:08pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 December, 2018, 8:10pm

A worrying number of vulnerable Chinese women, many of whom are trafficking victims, are being detained under threat of deportation, campaigners and lawyers have warned.

Several of the women have been picked up in immigration raids on restaurants, brothels and massage parlours, campaigners said, adding that trafficking victims are being held in detention often with no legal representation or access to interpreters, and have medical needs that are going unmet.

Women for Refugee Women, who visit and advocate for asylum-seeking women held in detention in Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire, said they had spoken to more than 20 Chinese women detained in the last five months.

“These women are extremely vulnerable and many have survived terrible violence and are still in fear of their traffickers,” said Natasha Walter, director of Women for Refugee Women.

“The Home Office is clearly failing to follow its own policies regarding victims of trafficking and gender-based violence by locking up these women for long periods and trying to deport them, without proper mental or physical health care or decent legal advice.”

Many of the women do not disclose that they are victims of trafficking until quite late, said Shalini Patel, a public law lawyer at Duncan Lewis, who has worked on several such cases.

Vietnamese child slaves toil in secret UK cannabis farms

She said that late disclosure was a recognised symptom of trafficking, adding that the Home Office’s own policy recognises that victims of trafficking may disclose late due to trauma, an inability to express themselves clearly and a mistrust of authority.

These women are extremely vulnerable and many have survived terrible violence
Natasha Walter

“Yet they are refusing trafficking claims on the basis of late disclosure,” she said.

“What’s happening with these cases is that even if these women are picked up in brothels, restaurants, and massage parlours, where, clearly, police and immigration enforcement should be concerned that they may be victims of trafficking, they’re just not being referred to the national referral mechanism (NRM). And, in the rare cases that they are referred to the NRM, they receive a negative reasonable grounds decision. There are also long delays in providing decisions.”

The number of Chinese women entering detention has more than doubled in a two-year period, increasing from 46 at the end of September 2016 to 112 at the end of September 2018, according to Home Office immigration statistics.

The number of Chinese women detained in Yarl’s Wood has jumped from 13 at the end of September 2016 to 35 at the end of September 2018.

Sarah Cope, the campaign and research officer for Women for Refugee Women, said she had been visiting people in detention centres for more than three years, but was shocked at the state she had found these women in.

Chinese student invited to UK on scholarship, then invited to leave in handcuffs

“I’ve never heard women with such horrific stories. I’ve never seen women in such bad state of health both physically and mentally. It’s completely above and beyond anything I’ve ever seen before.”

Cope said the detained women have similar harrowing experiences: they were in debt in China and tricked into thinking they would be given well-paid jobs; traffickers brought them to the UK through a very arduous journey; and they were then sold into a brothel and forced to have sex, often unprotected.

Women for Refugee Women first came across these cases when they visited Yarl’s Wood this summer with the Green party MP, Caroline Lucas.

A few Chinese women came forward and Women for Refugee Women has been following up ever since.

Germany smashes massive Thai sex trafficking ring in ‘biggest ever’ raids

Lucas said: “Yarl’s Wood is a dark stain on our country’s reputation for protecting human rights. There can be no justification for the government to hold women who’ve been trafficked and have serious medical needs in detention.

“The women at Yarl’s Wood haven’t committed crimes or been sentenced by a judge, yet they’re held in prison-like conditions without being told when they’ll be released. The government must end immigration detention now and urgently ensure these women are released and receive the support they need.”

Debora Singer, a senior policy adviser at Asylum Aid, said: “It is shocking that where there are clear indicators that women have been trafficked they are being detained. This is in breach of the Home Office’s own policy of not detaining vulnerable people. It is treating potential victims as immigration offenders. All women need access to a lawyer, and to a female interviewer and interpreter.”

Dr Lisa Doyle, director of advocacy at the Refugee Council, said: “Detention is a harmful practice, particularly so for vulnerable people, including those who have been trafficked. Given the government’s attention on trafficking and modern slavery over recent years, it is particularly alarming to hear that women with clear indicators of trafficking are being locked up, rather than treated as people in need of support and help to recover from their experiences.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Any person encountered by immigration enforcement who claims they are a victim of trafficking, at any stage of the process, will, with their consent be referred to the national referral mechanism.

“Their claim to be a victim of trafficking is then considered by a trained specialist. All detainees in immigration removal centres are made aware of their right to legal representation and how they can obtain such representation, within 24 hours of their arrival at an IRC.”