Thousands of trafficking victims should be granted leave to remain, the high court has said in a landmark ruling.
People the UK government acknowledged were foreign victims of trafficking could be sent back to their home countries prior to the ruling – where they were at risk of being trafficked again.
As a result, many make claims for asylum or humanitarian protection in the UK, waiting years in legal limbo before their applications to stay in the UK are processed by the Home Office.
In that time, they are unable to work, study or access mainstream benefits – leaving many unable to fully recover from their emotional ordeals, the Guardian reported.
Thousands granted leave to remain
But Tuesday’s ruling ordered that a group of trafficking victims who have asked for leave to remain in the UK be granted it en masse, meaning thousands of recognised victims of trafficking will be allowed to stay.
The Home Office has a week to decide whether it wishes to lodge an appeal.
The ruling followed a legal challenge against the Home Office by a 33-year-old Vietnamese woman, who can’t be named for legal reasons.
She was forced into sex work in Vietnam for about six months in 2016 before being trafficked to the UK – passing through several countries on the way, before arriving in November 2016 in the back of a lorry.
Between then and March 2018, she was forced to work in brothels and in cannabis production. She was recognised as a victim of trafficking in October 2018 – but was sentenced to 28 months’ imprisonment two months later after being charged with conspiring to produce cannabis.
She was referred for a trafficking assessment by her lawyers in May 2019 but the Home Office said it had no record of her case in the system; it found her records in July 2019, but locked her up in immigration detention in October 2019. She has been diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety and depressive disorder.
In his judgment Mr Justice Linden said: “The effect of the refusal to grant the claimant modern slavery leave is that she is subject to the so-called hostile environment underpinned by the Immigration Act 2014.”
The victim’s lawyer, Ahmed Aydeed of Duncan Lewis Solicitors, said: “We’re glad our client, and other survivors of trafficking, will no longer be left to live in this half-world, this legal limbo that has stripped them of their dignity and exposed them to further exploitation.
“Recovery is a vital form of relief for survivors of trafficking, and this will go a long way to assist victims in their physical, psychological and social recovery. Our client and other survivors will finally have access to education, training and they’ll finally have the right to work. Not only will this assist survivors of trafficking but it will also provide a direct financial benefit to the public purse.”