LONDON: British women and children trafficked overseas into terror groups would be barred from returning under the government’s new immigration bill, an investigation has revealed.
The Nationality and Borders Bill, which passed its second reading last week, will give Home Secretary Priti Patel the power to deny victims protection under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 if they are trafficked by a terrorist organization.
This denial of assistance will be justified by classifying the trafficking victims as a threat to national security.
The new legislation is being introduced despite the Home Office being forced to U-turn after it claimed a child who was trafficked to Afghanistan by a terrorist gang “did not fall under the definition of modern slavery.”
Patel later admitted that the department’s actions were based on a “misunderstanding of the law” and withdrew it.
Home Office lawyers said in 2019 that it was “not her position or policy” to separate trafficking victims from the protection they are owed when terrorist organizations are involved.
Maya Foa, director of the legal charity Reprieve, told Arab News that “the government is effectively telling young girls taken to Syria by an older man ‘you weren’t trafficked.’
“It’s telling women who had no choice but to go to Syria with their abusive, controlling husbands that they weren’t trafficked either. And it’s telling the teenagers groomed online by predators that they cannot have been trafficked because the gang in question was ISIS,” she said, using another term for the terror group Daesh.
She added: “It flies in the face of everything we know about trafficking — and is illegal under international law.”
Under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, human trafficking is defined as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them.
The government’s own guidance notes that a child cannot consent to being trafficked, even though they may appear a “willing participant.”
Reprieve has found that of the Britons held in camps in northeastern Syria, 20 are women and 35 are children and that nearly two-thirds of the women met the legal definition of a trafficking victim.
However, the government has ignored calls to recover them to Britain. Most of the women have had their citizenship removed.
Women in the camp who meet the standard for being designated as trafficking victims include a teenager who was taken to Syria by a male relative aged just 12. She was raped, forced into marriage at 14 and was pregnant via rape at 15.
The Home Office has denied that its new clause breaks any obligations to trafficking victims. “All decisions to exclude people from provisions are considered on a case-by-case basis and will safeguard those with legitimate modern slavery claims,” a spokesman said.