It is feared that exit from the EU could seriously jeopardize Britain’s fight against human trafficking.
Rabina Khan, The Independent
“I’m sorry Mum. My journey abroad hasn’t succeeded. Mum, I love you so much! I’m dying because I can’t breathe.” These were reportedly the last words of 26 year-old Pham Thi Tra in a text message to her parents, sent as she approached death with 38 others in the refrigerated truck found in Essex last week.
The horror of the slow death suffered by these lost souls is unimaginable. Trapped in freezing darkness her phone may have been the only light Pham Thi Tra had. Somehow she used the last moments of her life to apologise to her parents for her failure to reach the UK.
The hidden nature of human trafficking makes the task of defining its scale. Kennington-based charity Stop the Traffik cites an International Labour Organization (ILO) report that there are over 40 million victims of human trafficking worldwide. At 26, Pham Thi Tra was the average age for an identified human trafficking victim according to the Migration Data Portal, half of those identified being between 18 and 34 years old.
In the UK the National Crime Agency (NCA) leads the fight against modern slavery and human trafficking — the two are intrinsically linked. Between October and December 2018 the NCA reporting system showed that potential victims of trafficking originated from 84 different countries, with nationals from Albania, the UK and Vietnam being the most commonly reported.
Over the past few years, we have been exposed to all-too-frequent, disturbing stories and images of refugees who have perished during their journey to perceived sanctuary in Europe and the UK. Heartbreaking footage of parents cradling drowned children and, more recently, the incident where 39 refugees died in the back of a refrigerated container lorry, have shocked the nation. Most recently, 12 migrants of Syrian and Sudanese origin were found alive in a refrigerated truck in Belgium.
Even hardened anti-immigration citizens have been softened by this humanitarian issue and cannot fail to be moved by the ongoing suffering of families who simply want to enjoy the same freedoms that we take for granted.
Desperation, violence and unbearable living conditions in their home countries have led to many asylum seekers being exploited by traffickers and subsequently controlled by criminal gangs, under the promise of a brighter, safer future in the UK.
We cannot deny that, as a nation, we are partly to blame for the crises from which these people are fleeing. Some people blame Western governments for destabilising the Middle East and North Africa whereas others point the finger at the closure of legal routes for asylum seekers, hence opening up the opportunity for human traffickers to step in.
There are two separate issues here: the first is tackling the problem of criminals who are profiting from the plight of innocents and putting their lives in danger; the second is preventing those who arrive safely from being forced into slave labour in order to survive.
Refugee Rights Europe recently reported that women and girls were being forced to perform sexual acts in exchange for a passage to the UK. Tightened border security, together and police brutality, long asylum processing times and insecure living conditions in France, push asylum seekers to desperate measures to cross the Channel and fall prey to the criminal traffickers.
The Government has been so preoccupied with Brexit that it has overshadowed other pressing issues, such as that above, resulting in a situation where we only act after the event rather than focusing on prevention.
Currently, the UK is subject to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Article 5 — Slavery/Forced Labour means that human trafficking is prohibited and no one shall be “held in slavery or servitude”, nor “be required to perform forced or compulsory labour”.
If, and when, the UK leaves the EU, this Charter will cease to apply under UK law. However, the UK will retain the framework laid out in the European Convention on Human Rights, but is this enough?
Despite these measures, the problem has increased dramatically since 2015 and it is unclear whether it will continue to escalate if we leave the EU. Since member countries of the EU are bound by the mutual free movement of people, Brexiteers promised that leaving the EU would reduce unwanted immigration. However, what this may mean is that more people will seek illegal routes into the UK with the potential for further loss of life.
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