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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.
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Keith Vaz (Chair)
Mr James Clappison
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Witness: Ünal Çeviköz, Turkish Ambassador to the UK, gave evidence.
Q166 Chair : May I bring the Committee to order and ask all Members to consider whether they have any additional interests to declare in respect of the inquiry that we are doing into Turkey? If not, may I refer everyone present to the Register of Members’ Interests where the interests of all Members are noted.
This is another one of our sessions into the admission of Turkey into the European Union and the migration implications. May I begin, Ambassador, by thanking you most sincerely for being here today? We know this is a very difficult day for you as your Minister is visiting for the very important conference that the Government has called on the Libyan situation, so we are extremely grateful. We will not detain you for too long at these hearings. May I also, on behalf of the Committee, thank you and the Government of Turkey for the support that you gave us during our recent visit to Turkey. We found it extremely useful, both the visit to Ankara and to Istanbul and Edirne, which of course we went to look at the Greek-Turkish border.
May I start by asking you about the role of Frontex that is currently operating in Greece? They claim to have reduced by 76% the number of people crossing between the Turkish-Greek border. Do you recognise those figures and do you accept that that is what has happened?
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: Mr Chairman, distinguished members of the Committee, first of all, thank you very much for giving me this opportunity. I am so glad that you have made your visit to Turkey and I understand that it has been a very successful one.
Mr Chairman, distinguished members of the Committee, as you know Turkey considers the readmission protocol signed in 2001 with Greece as a very significant tool in displaying deterrence. Turkish law enforcement authorities have intensified their measures to stop illegal migration at the common land border with Greece where the capacity of our law enforcers has been intensified by 80% since January 2011. Considering the magnitude of the problem at our common border, we understand that Greece’s decision to build a fence at our common border is necessary and against neither Turkey nor Turkish citizens. However, building fences and walls are only short-term measures that cannot really cope with the migratory flows and challenges in the long run.
Of course, in addition we are informed that the EU Commission and Frontex, that Greece requested Frontex to deploy rapid border intervention teams as well as operational means to increase the control and surveillance levels at the land borders between our countries. This rapid border intervention teams-RABIT-operation ended on 2 March 2011 and as a follow-up Frontex has launched the Poseidon operation. We hope that Frontex’s efforts will help to curb human smuggling in the region. We are keen to develop a working relationship with Frontex. To this end, negotiations on the draft working arrangement between Turkey and Frontex on some sensitive matters at technical level continue. In addition, Turkish authorities are ready to participate where possible in Frontex co-ordinated activities.
Q167 Chair: Yes, thank you. What is the Turkish Government’s position on the Greek Government’s proposal to construct a wall along its border? You mentioned it in your short answer to what I had previously said. Do you welcome it or do you think that this is a problem?
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: We believe that it is necessary. I think it is one of the measures that the Greek side could make and could take but, as I told you, building walls and fences are only short-term measures. That is the reason why we want to work together with Greece in the future in co-ordination with the Frontex operations. I understand that now we are moving from the RABIT to the new phase, the Poseidon phase of the Frontex operations.
Q168 Chair : Can you tell me at the moment what is the current level of illegal immigration crossing the border? We were given figures of 100 a day. Do you know roughly what it is?
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: I am going to give you a number. The figures and the list that I have prepared I will submit to your attention, but the number of illegal migrants apprehended while attempting to cross our territory during the last 15 years has been nearly 800,000. Over 11,000 smugglers have been apprehended during raids.
Q169 Chair : 800,000?
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: 800,000, yes.
Q170 Chair : In the last 15 years?
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: Last 15 years.
Q171 Chair : Do you have some figures for last year?
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: In 2009, nearly 35,000. In 2010, around 11,500 illegal migrants were apprehended in Edirne, the border city where you have been. I am going to hand over a paper. In 2010 it was 26,388.
Q172 Chair : 26,000?
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: 26,388.
Q173 Chair : Crossed the border between Turkey and Greece?
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: Illegal migrants apprehended in Turkey.
Q174 Chair : Oh, apprehended. Do we know how many managed to get across?
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: I am afraid I can’t give you a figure like that.
Chair: For obvious reasons you wouldn’t know because they got away, didn’t they?
Q175 Mr Clappison: Can I echo what the Chairman said about how grateful we were for the co-operation we had from the Turkish authorities in our visit and the help that that gave us in our inquiry.
Just going back to Frontex again, Frontex has been in place for over four months now, or was in place, and the first phase of its operation has been and gone. Would you say in that time that the Turkish authorities have had sufficient co-operation with Frontex or not, from the Frontex side?
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: I can say that the Frontex side is, of course, on the other side of the border and it is the EU who led the operation. We are willing to co-operate with Frontex and also with our neighbours, the Greek authorities. I think this is already happening.
Q176 Mr Clappison: We were left in no doubt about the willingness of Turkey to cooperate with them and to help with anybody at all, including British police forces in other areas. Have Frontex taken the initiative at all in getting in touch with you so far?
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: I don’t think that I can give a very satisfactory answer to that. I have to go back to my authorities.
Q177 Mr Clappison: Are you able to say when the bilateral working agreement between Frontex and Turkey will be signed? Do you know that?
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: I am afraid I can’t give any information about that either.
Q178 Mr Clappison: We understand that there have been negotiations about a Turkish EU readmission agreement and that these have stalled. Are you able to tell us any more about that?
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: The readmission agreement is a very important issue on the Turkish EU visa relationship as well. These two issues are very much connected. As you know, the Justice and Home Affairs Council announced its conclusions on 24 February, and I am afraid I have to say that these conclusions failed to meet our expectations. Turkey will initial the readmission agreement only if the Council mandates the Commission to start negotiations on a detailed action plan with Turkey and present the associated roadmap with the ultimate goal of a visa-free regime for Turkish citizens. Nevertheless, Turkey is determined to tackle the common challenge of illegal migration and in this framework we will actualise effective regulations such as the integrated border management.
Q179 Steve McCabe: Mr Ambassador, I am aware that you have a number of borders with different countries that you are required to try and police. I wondered if it was possible to ask which of the various borders poses the most difficulty for you in terms of illegal immigration and particularly the trafficking of human beings?
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: You know that this kind of trafficking is happening from the east to the west and, as you have mentioned, we have borders with many countries, starting with Iraq, Syria, and then on the east with Iran and Azerbaijan. We are very keen on co-operating with these countries as well. We have also signed a number of readmission agreements with many countries. I can give you the numbers, the readmission agreements that we have signed. We have signed one with Syria in 2011. We have signed with the Russian Federation again in 2011. We have signed readmission agreements with Kyrgyzstan, Romania, Ukraine, Pakistan, Yemen and Nigeria. Mainly the flow originates from the east and then goes to the west. We also have a readmission agreement with Greece, which originally dates back to 2001, and we are working very hard to implement the requirements of this readmission agreement with our neighbours in the west and with Greece.
Q180 Steve McCabe: Thank you. Could I ask about Iran and Iraq in particular? Those strike me as very difficult borders for you to control. Do you experience particular difficulties with trying to control immigration at those borders?
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: Not for the last four or five years. Previously we had some serious difficulty at our borders with Iran and Iraq, but we have now upgraded the technological capacity and also the manpower capacity of our border control units. I can clearly state that now we have very good control at the border with Iran and Iraq.
Q181 Mark Reckless: Mr Ambassador, what is your estimate of the number of Turkish people who might seek work in the European Union were Turkey to join the EU?
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: That is, of course, a hypothetical question. I think it will be very difficult for me to answer, but I will just give you another answer to clarify all these concerns in European countries. I think the Turkish economy is booming and the Turkish economy is having a very steady growth. With all these conditions, the Turkish citizens would prefer to have work opportunities in their home country. I can also mention that even the third and fourth generation Turks in most of the European countries would prefer to go back to Turkey if they have good working opportunities there. So I think there would not be a very serious flow of Turkish workers or Turkish citizens who would be looking for job opportunities in Europe.
Q182 Mark Reckless: Our Immigration Minister, Damian Green, spoke at a recent Committee that he thought that Turkey had the growth potential almost to grow at the rate that we are seeing in India. I just wonder in that context, perhaps if it is a decade down the road, do you see potential for significant emigration from the EU into Turkey? Are you seeing any evidence of that currently?
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: Return of some Turkish citizens could take place because the growth of the Turkish economy means it is becoming a more appealing source for new job opportunities and that is the reason why I tried to explain my view to your question in the manner that I have explained it.
Q183 Mark Reckless: Do you currently face any emigration pressure at all from, say, Romania or Bulgaria?
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: No.
Q184 Chair : When we were there in Turkey at Edirne we did see the new detention centre that was being built to house a number of people who had not managed to get across the border but were being detained there. Are you satisfied with the level of funding that you are getting from the EU, because obviously you are helping the EU by securing the border? Do you have any further information about whether or not the European Union is prepared to support Turkey in providing more of these facilities? If you don’t know the answer, I am very happy for you to write to me about it.
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: The twinning project on establishing removal centres for illegal migrants was approved by the EU Commission on 13 November 2007 and the UK-Netherlands-Greece consortium were selected as twinning partners for the realisation of this project. The illegal migrants apprehended are held at the removal centres with a total capacity of around 3,000, and we are working very hard at increasing the capacity of this centre. I think efforts to improve the physical conditions and capacity of the removal centres will continue together in co-ordination with the twinning partners.
Chair: Excellent, thank you.
Q185 Bridget Phillipson: Mr Ambassador, can I ask what progress is being made within Turkey towards the data protection standards required for greater cooperation with European policing partners? This was an issue raised during our visit.
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: The amendments to the constitution last year introduced protection of personal data and access to information as constitutional rights. The draft Personal Data Protection Act is before the Parliament and it is expected to be adopted in the coming period. You know that we have elections on 12 June and I am sure that it is a very important issue and it will be on the agenda of the new Parliament after the elections.
Q186 Bridget Phillipson: Thank you. While we were in Turkey we also saw a lot of the excellent work going on in combating the heroin trade, as Turkey is a transit country for heroin to pass through in order to come to other European countries. Could I just ask you to explain the rationale behind the tough enforcement action Turkey takes on this given that there is not as much of a domestic market in Turkey for heroin as there is in other European countries where the heroin eventually ends up?
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: I can only give you some figures.
Q187 Chair : That would be very helpful. If you wanted to write to us with this information we are very happy to receive it, if you don’t have the figures here. Would you like to write to us about it?
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: I think I can get some feedback from Ankara for that, yes.
Chair: That would be very helpful.
Q188 Mr Winnick: Ambassador, the issue that sometimes arises if Turkey was to join the EU would be whether it meets the European Union standards in the area of Justice and Home Affairs. I wonder, therefore, if I could ask you a question that is causing a good deal of concern on the international scene. Nine journalists and writers were arrested, I understand, on 3 March, and Human Rights Watch said that the arrests, "will have a chilling effect on free speech". Apparently other people have been arrested, but certainly the nine journalists have received a great deal of coverage. I realise, of course, you are the spokesperson for the Government, but does the Government in Turkey recognise the concern that is felt among many people on the international scene?
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: I think the Government and the Turkish public have full confidence in the justice system in Turkey and all these issues that you have mentioned are now processes that are continuing in the courts. It will be perhaps appropriate to wait for the result of the legal processes, which are already undertaken and which are continuing. The Government have full confidence in the justice system. In Turkey, there is a full separation of powers and the judiciary, Executive and the legislature are independent. From that point of view there is no doubt about the justice to be exercised.
Q189 Mr Winnick: Are the nine likely to be tried in the very near future, unless, of course, they are released in the meantime?
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: Following the latest amendments to the Turkish constitution, there is a new revision to the judicial process and the judicial system, and that is expected to bring a rapid processing of the trials in the courts.
Q190 Mr Winnick: Would I be right to say that the Turkish Government is aware of the sensitivity and the feelings that are felt on the international scene, certainly in the democracies, about this?
Ü nal Ç evik ö z: Of course. The Turkish Government is, of course, fully aware of that, but the Government does not have any role to play. The political authority does not intervene in the legal processes.
Chair : Thank you very much. Mr Ambassador, we are extremely grateful to you for coming here. We know how busy you are today. We would be most grateful if the Embassy could provide us with the information that we have requested. We will keep watching the situation very carefully. The Committee is due to go to other parts of the border in June of this year and we will keep you informed of developments. If you know of any developments, especially with regard to what Frontex is doing, please tell us because we are very interested to see that a dialogue is established between Frontex and Turkey; not just Frontex and Greece but Frontex and Turkey. You need to know what is going on in order to secure the borders. We are most grateful. Thank you very much.
Mr Winnick will now take the Chair for the next witness.
Examination of Witnesses
Witness: Abigail Stepnitz, National Co-ordinator, POPPY Project, gave evidence.
Q191 Chair: We are most grateful for your coming and giving evidence today on the work that is undertaken by POPPY. Can you just briefly tell the Committee what your organisation does? We have a pretty good idea, but if you could briefly tell us.
Abigail Stepnitz: Sure. My name is Abigail Stepnitz and I am the National Coordinator at POPPY. We provide services to women who have been trafficked into the UK for sexual exploitation and domestic slavery. We also oversee the work of two other organisations in the UK who provide services in the north of England and in Wales. In addition to providing direct services, we are involved quite a bit in the development of policy and programmes related to counter-trafficking work across the UK.
Q192 Chair : Have you yourself been involved for some time?
Abigail Stepnitz: Yes. I have been with POPPY for going on four years now.
Q193 Chair : What is your assessment about the number of victims in the UK who have been trafficked from or through Turkey?
Abigail Stepnitz: From Turkey the numbers are extremely low. At POPPY we have taken nearly 2,000 referrals to date and only four of them have been of Turkish nationals. In terms of the trafficking of Turkish women, it is not something that we are particularly concerned about as of now. In fact, all of those women came to our attention before the introduction of the Council of Europe Convention and before the introduction of the National Referral Mechanism in the UK, so there is not even very much information about those particular cases. The last was in 2008. All four were trafficked for sexual exploitation and that is the extent of what we know.
In terms of women who go through Turkey, however, that is quite a bit higher. Just since 1 April 2009, when the Council of Europe Convention came into force in the UK, we have had 19 women trafficked via Turkey, almost all of whom, except for one, were then trafficked into Greece before coming either into the UK directly or further via Spain and Italy. The trafficking is linked very closely to further movement into Greece before movement into the UK.
Q194 Chair : Turkey is not unique by any means in this vile trade?
Abigail Stepnitz: No.
Q195 Chair : It comes down the list, does it?
Abigail Stepnitz: It does. In terms of a transit country, it is quite high, but as a source country quite low-very, very low actually.
Q196 Steve McCabe: Good morning. Obviously, we have been looking at Turkey in the context of possible entry into the European Union. I wondered if you had any information about how previous enlargement had affected human trafficking to the UK.
Abigail Stepnitz: Yes, in particular the experience with Romania and Bulgaria has been very acute. Just to give you some comparative statistics, in 2006 we had only had five Romanian referrals, so a number that is quite similar to what we have now with Turkey. In 2007, it was 12. In 2008, it was 18. In 2009, it was 23. In 2010, it dropped back off again to only 10, so I think it probably peaked in 2009. But we have seen Romania move up in our statistics. It is now the fifth highest country in terms of people trafficked to the UK, and our statistics reflect women. Romania is also very, very high in terms of the trafficking of men for labour exploitation. Following 2007, we saw a massive increase there.
The figures for Bulgaria have not been quite as high. However, interestingly enough, we know that there have been a number of Bulgarian nationals involved in trafficking people through Turkey. It may be that there is a connection between what happens in Bulgaria and Turkey as well.
Q197 Steve McCabe: Would it be reasonable to suppose on that basis that any further enlargement that included Turkey would show a similar pattern?
Abigail Stepnitz: I think it is likely, but I think it is likely only if we don’t put in place a number of things to address the push factors that make women vulnerable to trafficking in the first place. Obviously, the easiest thing that changes when you have freedom of movement is that you no longer have to go to the trouble of securing false documents. About 35% of the women we see come in on false passports. If you don’t have to go to that trouble, that is quite a saving, not only in terms of time but financially.
The push factors that we see, though, are 32% of women come from rural backgrounds; 66% have already experienced physical or sexual violence. If you are talking to Turkey about things that need to be put in place to address general gender-based violence, educational and employment opportunities for women in the source country are the types of things that will make women less likely to take the bait in the first place. That is going to be more effective, not only to prevent trafficking but for sustainable development generally. Those are things that were not necessarily prioritised in looking at the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, so we have a lot of women now who, even if they wanted to go back-and many of them really desperately do-there is simply nothing for them to go back to. So, not only do they come in in the first place but once they are here and we have worked with them in terms of rehabilitation, there is very little for them to return home to, which leaves them in a difficult position. Not able to access benefits properly here, not able to return home to anything sustainable there leaves them very vulnerable, not only to further exploitation in the UK but, if they were to return, to the possibility of being trafficked again or to ending up in another type of exploitative labour or prostitution in the home country. I think we would see something very similar if those types of considerations are not made at the outset.
Q198 Mr Clappison: Thank you very much for the work that you are doing on this. Can I just take you back to an answer because I didn’t quite catch the dates? You mentioned a period over which women have been trafficked from Turkey into Greece. Could you just remind us of that again? I think that you cited recent figures.
Abigail Stepnitz: Generally, since 1 April 2009, we have had 19 women go through Turkey. All but one went from Turkey then to Greece. Then some of them went from Greece to Spain to Italy, then to the UK. Some of them went from Greece directly to the UK, but for all but one Turkey was just a stop on the way to Greece.
Q199 Mr Clappison: It rather begs the question. You have told us the women were not coming from Turkey itself. Can you give us a rough idea of where they were coming from, the women who came on that route?
Abigail Stepnitz: Sure. They were mostly from former Soviet countries. We had one woman from Kazakhstan and women from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and, as I understand it, as of last year an increase in labour trafficking from Mongolia, but that was primarily of men. We see women predominantly from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and the former Soviet states.
Q200 Mr Clappison: It is quite right that things should be done to try and address the problems that these women face at home in their home countries-what you describe as the push factor-but that is difficult for either ourselves or those in Turkey to do. It is a big ask. Is there anything else that you feel that either our own country or the EU should be doing to try and clamp down on this trade in whatever way possible?
Abigail Stepnitz: At an EU level, and certainly in terms of Turkey’s response to trafficking within Turkey, I trained the Turkish security police two years ago as part of the twinning project. They came into the training and they said, "Now, we want to make it clear that we are here in case we ever have trafficking because we don’t have any right now. If we ever should in the future, we want to be prepared". I thought, "Well, that is not really what any of the reports say". I think there is a bit of hesitance on their part to acknowledge the existence of the problem in the first place. There is a hotline, a 157 hotline, that works nationally and it is supposed to be for anyone to call who has suspicions of someone who has been trafficked or needs assistance. The Government has been promising to fund it since 2007 and has not, so, basically, it has gone on completely with nothing. There are three national shelters, all of which are abysmally under-funded. They have not published any statistics on how many victims they have identified since 2007, but in 2007 they said that they had identified 148 victims, 117 of whom they say went home voluntarily. There were 308 arrests and only 13 prosecutions.
Q201 Mr Clappison: I get the message loud and clear on that one. What about ourselves? Anything we can be doing here in the UK?
Abigail Stepnitz: There is work to be done in the UK on curbing demand. There is work to be done on informing the public about the way that decisions that they make about goods and services that they pay for have an impact on who is drawn to the UK and which organised criminals in particular might capitalise on that demand in order to prey on vulnerable people. There are certainly things there to be done. We are very pleased that the Government has decided to opt in to the EU directive, and obviously very pleased that we have had the Council of Europe Convention in place for the last few years now.
In addition to that, I think we just have to remember that the commitments in the UK, the new strategy that is coming out, have identified the main pillars of focus. There is a lot of emphasis on upstream efforts, a lot of emphasis on preventing trafficking before it ever becomes a UK problem. I think the development component of that is lacking. I think we need to really ensure that our colleagues from DFID and other places are involved in making sure that that is done from a development and human rights perspective and not simply from a law enforcement or border control perspective because that really only catches people at the border, if it even does that. It doesn’t address the source of the problem. I think we need to make sure we know what we are talking about when we are talking about what really matters from an upstream perspective and that we remember the way that all of the different things link together. The better the victim care provision, the more likely you are to have people who participate in investigations and prosecutions in the UK, the more likely you are to have convictions and the more likely traffickers are to know that the UK is hostile towards that type of activity and to decide not try to target it as a place to bring their business.
All of the things link back together and then the fewer traffickers you have, the fewer victims you have to cater for. It is a cyclical process, and all that information then feeds into how you address law enforcement and border control issues. It is a question of just remembering that it is all linked together in terms of the UK’s approach.
Q202 Bridget Phillipson: Just to follow on from what you were saying about curbing demand in the UK, can I ask what you feel could be done to curb demand in terms of prostitution and sex slavery for those women who are trafficked into the UK for those purposes?
Abigail Stepnitz: Certainly. I think there is a lot to be done in terms of public awareness and education, particularly of young men, about the real human consequences of paying for sex. Obviously, we have the provision within the Policing and Crime Act that makes it illegal to pay for sex with someone who you can prove has been forced or coerced into it. In terms of a message to the public and in terms of ensuring that the public knows that the Government takes that type of activity seriously, that provision was a step in the right direction of practical enforcement. The impact it will have on individual cases is questionable, but I think that some good work has been done there.
I think a lot more needs to be done to raise public awareness about the real impact and reality of prostitution, not only just in terms of women who are trafficked, though, because what we know about prostitution, and we know the average age of entry into prostitution in the UK is 12. We know that the majority of those women are tackling things like a history of domestic or child abuse, tackling issues like substance misuse, having had fewer educational opportunities, having been disenfranchised from participation in employment and other things like that. Once again, it becomes a much larger question of how we look after people in the first place, children leaving care, particularly vulnerable populations, before they become people who are in a position to be exploited like that.
Q203 Mark Reckless: Yes. The Government has announced its intention to opt in to the Directive on Human Trafficking, but I don’t imagine there will be any difficulties with the parliamentary process for this, given the cross-party consensus. Even those of us who would prefer not to be subject to the EU would not want to stand in the way of this. I know Peter Bone, the Member for Wellingborough, has done great work in his APPG on this. I wonder, though, if you could perhaps tell us what practically needs to be done to deliver these ideals of the objective on the ground and, in particular, what can be done with perhaps some of the newer EU member states and candidate states to improve practical measures in this area.
Abigail Stepnitz: In terms of prevention in the first place?
Mark Reckless: Yes, I think so.
Abigail Stepnitz: The easiest place to start is to look at the UK’s response. The UK response is most messy right now in terms of the legislation. Turkey, for example, has a comprehensive Anti-Trafficking Bill that prohibits trafficking for sexual exploitation and labour exploitation. It is all covered by article 80 of the Penal Code. We have the Sexual Offences Act 2003 that covers some little bits of it, and then we have the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act, and then parts of the Coroners and Justice Act are also applicable. We are trying to bring together all these different things, which makes it extremely difficult to prosecute cases of trafficking. The attrition rate is enormous and we see more cases brought for things like rape and assault or controlling a brothel or controlling prostitution for gain than we do for trafficking. If we were able to tidy all of that up and we were able to have a more coherent response from a law enforcement perspective and a criminal justice perspective, that would make a big difference in terms of demonstrating that the UK is serious about tackling trafficking. We had a very successful prosecution last week of a very large case, but at the end of it the outcome was a two years suspended sentence. Now, that doesn’t really say, "Wow, we take this seriously", does it?
Q204 Mark Reckless: Do you think we as parliamentarians should be taking a stronger lead in setting stronger guidelines for those types of sentences?
Abigail Stepnitz: I think the sentencing needs to be reviewed. The CPS would disagree with me-that is a longstanding issue-but we need a really coherent response, because it is very fragmented. Enforcement has also been sitting in lots of different places. Sometimes trafficking is an immigration issue; sometimes it is an organised crime issue. Different Governments, different Departments even, have different approaches within that, and I think the more unified the response, the more effective it will be, especially when dealing with other countries as well. For example, one of the things that we have had that has worked really well with Romania is a joint investigation task force that has looked particularly at the trafficking of Romanian children. It has been extremely effective in preventing trafficking, in securing prosecutions in the UK and in Romania. Unfortunately, the funding for that is coming to an end.
Q205 Mark Reckless: Given the difficulties you have with the CPS, would you welcome a stronger input from Parliament on that subject?
Abigail Stepnitz: Absolutely, yes. I think that would be really helpful.
Q206 Chair : You are familiar with our report of 2009?
Abigail Stepnitz: Yes, I am.
Q207 Chair : Would you say that since that report was published by us, the Home Affairs Committee of course, progress has been made or otherwise? A frank answer.
Abigail Stepnitz: Indeed. On 1 April when the Council of Europe Convention came into force and we brought in with it the National Referral Mechanism, we had a real opportunity to improve proactive identification, multi-agency working and to really bring things together. I think to date we can call that an opportunity missed, and I think it is quite unfortunate. Because there was so much concern about the potential immigration implications of identifying people as victims of trafficking and about the idea that somehow this was going to open the proverbial floodgates, it created such a conservative response, such a "small c" conservative response, to the problem, that we have ended up now where we have victims of trafficking who receive letters from the Government that say, "We think probably at one point you were a victim of trafficking but we are really not sure that you are any more because you are not under the control of the trafficker any more". Arguably, you can’t seek help unless you leave the trafficker, so you can see that this becomes very frustrating. I do think we have got a little bit lost in the bureaucracy of it all since those processes have come into place. I would say that, while there has been progress, there is a lot that is worse now than it was two years ago.
Chair : Slow progress, I am afraid.
Q208 Mark Reckless: Overall, do you think there has been net progress or net going backwards?
Abigail Stepnitz: From a victim care perspective, which is the one that I am best qualified to speak from, I think we have lost a lot of ground. As I said, there have been some good efforts-the joint taskforce with Romania and Operation Golf have been fantastic. The continued funding for the specialist team, SCD9 that sits within the Met Police, has been a good thing. There is still an ACPO lead on trafficking. There are good things within that, but I think on the whole, if I were to give an assessment of the general response, that things are not going as well as they were going two years ago.
Chair: Just as well we are carrying out this further inquiry.
Q209 Bridget Phillipson: Could you just tell us about the current funding situation with your organisation?
Abigail Stepnitz: Certainly. My funding comes to an end on Thursday of this week. We have engaged in the tendering process for renewal of the funding. The original documents were released in December and unfortunately they reflected an incredibly regressive position, a reduction of the minimum protection period from 45 to 30 days and a real overemphasis, in our opinion, on expediting the progress of people through support, which if you have ever worked with anyone who is traumatised or if you have ever gone through a process like that yourself in terms of grief or anything, you know it can’t be rushed. So these were concerns for us. There was a case taken to the High Court by a couple of victims of trafficking about the possible forward provisions for victims in this country, and off the back of that we did have some improvement in what the Government is looking for.
We are hopeful that within the new proposed structure there will be a continuation of appropriate care for victims. The new cost envelope reflects a 60% reduction in spending per victim. That does not mean that it is an impossible system to work in, but it does mean that there are going to be considerations that have to be made and there is going to be a more intense reliance on sources of support, not just financial but otherwise, that fall outside of the Government obligations, which is a little bit ironic given that two years ago, before we had binding legislation, it seems as though it was easier to ensure that those obligations were met and now it is slightly more difficult.
The Government will make a decision, the Ministry of Justice will make a decision on Friday about where the contract going forward will sit, and we are hopeful that we will continue to be able to provide services. We have submitted an application that is not only for the POPPY Project but brings 10 other organisations with us into coalition, covering the entirety of England and Wales, and we are hopeful that that will be something that the Government will see as useful, particularly in terms of retention of the expertise that is held within the staff of those various organisations. Obviously, when you are talking about looking after people on a daytoday basis, there is nothing that makes you better placed to do that than five, six, seven years’ worth of experience, as most of my team and those of other organisations have. That is where it stands at the moment.
Chair : You will no doubt keep us informed. Certainly, if there are any difficulties about the project, about the finance, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us because we believe your organisation, and certainly you yourself, are doing a very important job. We much appreciate your coming today. Thank you very much indeed.
Abigail Stepnitz: Thank you.
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