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Women For Refugee Women says Chinese women trafficked to the UK are being routinely detained


New report accuses Home Office of inflicting further harm and distress on trafficking victims

Date of Publication:
11 July 2019

Women For Refugee Women says Chinese women trafficked to the UK are being routinely detained

11 July 2019

Women For Refugee Women this week published a new report which finds that Chinese women who have been trafficked to the UK are being routinely detained for several months in immigration detention centres.

The 12-page report is available here.

Women from China make up the largest group of women in immigration detention, with 420 detained in 2018.

Women For Refugee Women said: "Since July 2018, we have spoken to 40 Chinese women detained in Yarl's Wood, many of whom have been trafficked. Many of these women had been brought to the UK because of personal or family debt, and then forced into sexual exploitation or forced labour to pay off this debt. Despite the exploitation they have suffered, the Home Office has locked them up in detention, often for months on end, and has only released them following sustained efforts by solicitors."

The report examines the cases of 14 women from China who were trafficked to the UK and subsequently detained in Yarl's Wood. All were represented by Duncan Lewis solicitors. Nine of the women had been forced into prostitution, while five had been forced to work in restaurants or in other forms of forced labour.

Women For Refugee Women is concerned that in six of the cases, the women were referred to immigration enforcement and detained rather than treated as potential victims, despite police having clear indicators that the women might be being sexually exploited and might be victims of trafficking.

"By detaining women from potentially exploitative situations, where there are clear indicators that they might be victims of trafficking, the Home Office is deliberately going against the Adults at Risk policy," the report states.

Other key findings from the report are:

• When women disclose trafficking, the Home Office doesn't follow appropriate procedures.

• The Home Office is flouting its own guidance in order to refuse trafficking cases.

• The Home Office is not supporting women whom they have recognised as survivors of trafficking.

• The Home Office is allowing detention centres to continue with practices that prevent disclosure of trafficking.

• The Home Office is detaining women with serious mental health problems.

In conclusion, Women For Refugee Women says its research shows that the Home Office is refusing to protect survivors of trafficking and is instead inflicting further harm and distress on them.

The report recommends that survivors of trafficking and gender-based violence should never be detained, and it calls for the Home Office to implement its commitment to ensuring that survivors of trafficking can access appropriate independent legal, practical and emotional support, in safe accommodation outside detention.

Gemma Lousley, one of the authors of the report, told the Independent: "Chinese women have been neglected by research in this area. They can be both isolated from other women in detention and also in terms of any other help they may get. These are some of the most extreme cases we have ever seen because of the sexual exploitation they experience. They are subjected to repeated and violent exploitation. There are women who have been forced to have sex with ten men every day."

Lousley added: "The detention system is institutionally racist. If they were British non-migrant women, they would have been offered support and protection, but the exact opposite has happened."

Natasha Walter, director of Women for Refugee Women, said: "In all my time working with refugee and asylum-seeking women I have never heard stories more harrowing than those we are hearing from Chinese trafficked women in detention. These women have suffered extreme abuse and exploitation and do not receive the support and protection that is promised in policies. Instead, they are locked up and threatened with deportation. This situation must change now."

In response to the report, a Home Office spokesperson told the Guardian: "Detention is an important part of the immigration system – but it must be fair, dignified and protect the most vulnerable. We have made significant improvements to our approach in recent years, but remain committed to going further.

"Any person who claims they are a victim of trafficking will, with their consent, have their claim considered by a trained specialist and will not be required to leave the country while this decision is pending. A positive decision entitles that person to support and guidance and is taken into consideration when deciding their immigration case."