Britain’s Home Office has been compelled to rewrite guidance notes for officials on Nigerian victims of trafficking after it penned earlier that some victims were profiting from their exploitation.
A section of a recently-updated policy document by the UK immigration agency said that while victims risk being trafficked again to settle debts owed to their traffickers, other victims return to their countries “wealthy from prostitution” and are highly celebrated.
The updated paragraph of the policy, which serves as a reference document on trafficking in Nigeria, said: “trafficked women who return from Europe, wealthy from prostitution, enjoy high social-economic status and in general are not subject to negative social attitudes on return. They are often held in high regard because they have improved income prospects.”
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Human rights lawyers, charities, and lawmakers have since condemned the wording of the paragraph. Godwin Morka, head of research for Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), said it was “disappointing” that the Home Office would claim that victims were benefiting from their situations.
“The victims have been exploited and tricked in the first place. They are not the traffickers, who make money from enslaving them. There is nothing glamorous about it and by the time we rescue them they are so traumatized,” Morka told CNN.
Julian Bild, an immigration lawyer working with anti-trafficking charity ATLEU, said the comment was “worrying”, especially for victims of trafficking seeking asylum in Britain.
In an interview with The National, Bild said the guidance notes could be used by asylum decision-makers at the Home Office to reject asylum applications by “putting it into their heads that women are benefiting from being trapped”.
“They are not selling themselves. They are not prostitutes. Someone else is selling them and they are told by their traffickers that they are permanently in debt, which they will never pay off. They are not benefiting at all from being sold,” he said.
“It sets up a Pretty Woman idea that these women have agency and are benefiting from sex work. These women have no agency, and that’s what we as lawyers try to give them.”
The Home Office guidance notes, he believed, would also discourage victims from approaching relevant authorities for help.
Labour MP Kate Osamor has since called on the Home Office to issue an apology as its remarks were not a reflection of what victims faced.
A Home Office spokesperson has told the CNN that the assessment “accurately” reflects findings from two credible sources – the EASO and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The updated paragraph will, however, be reviewed to avoid it being misinterpreted by decision makers.
“As the assessment also makes clear, each case must be considered on the facts in the context of the available country information and relevant case law. Where a female victim of trafficking is vulnerable to serious harm she will usually be granted protection,” Home Office said.
“In light of these concerns, we will, however, review the text of the assessment to avoid it being misinterpreted by decision makers.”
Thousands of people are illegally trafficked from Nigeria to destinations in Europe and Africa every year. Authorities say the women are often smuggled into Europe on boats and planes after they were lured with foreign employment offers that were too good to refuse.
Once in Europe, the women are made to understand that they would need to pay back substantial sums of money for moving them around and also subjected to voodoo rituals to guarantee their silence and cooperation.
Most of those who are rescued by security agencies or make it back to their home countries suffer mentally and physically without any good source of income.