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July 29, 2022

Working with the UN to improve countries’ response to human trafficking

Hope for Justice has contributed to a high-level United Nations process helping states to tackle human trafficking. Phillipa Roberts (Head of Policy and Research, pictured on-screen above) and Enrique Restoy (International Programmes Director) spoke to representatives from the United Nations at the Constructive Dialogues on Smuggling of Migrants & Trafficking in Persons. These events are designed to help states implement the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and its protocols on preventing, suppressing and punishing trafficking in persons, smuggling migrants, and trafficking firearms.

 

During the panel discussion on UNTOC on 1 July, Philippa Roberts spoke about the vital role that civil society can play alongside law enforcement agencies in investigating and prosecuting trafficking in persons cases. For example, Hope for Justice’s team was key to what became the largest modern slavery prosecution in UK history – the Operation Fort investigation has so far resulted in the successful prosecution of 11 traffickers and their collaborators. The gang was thought to have exploited and controlled up to 400 victims in forced labour in the West Midlands area, from approximately 2012-2017.

 

The importance of collaboration and survivor-centred advocacy

 

The investigation that brought down the trafficking ring began with a training sessions on how to identify victims of human trafficking, after which a local support worker recognised individuals who had been trafficked. With that support worker and with the police, we were able to identify the methods of the organised crime group responsible, and began to identify and support more and more victims and survivors. Working collaboratively, we ensured that victims were identified, and built bridges of trust between them and the police.

 

Our Independent Modern Slavery Advocates (IMSAs) worked with survivors over an extended period to help them understand their rights; ensured their voice was being heard by the statutory services and legal teams; and supported them through the complex criminal justice system.

 

In her speech, Phillipa Roberts stressed the importance of legal representation that is survivor-centred, holistic, trauma-informed and based on long-term independent advocacy and support, like that provided by our IMSAs. She explained: “Survivors who feel safe and supported in their recovery journey are not only able to make choices such as whether to engage with criminal justice processes, but this also enables them to give their best evidence.”

 

People smuggling and human trafficking are not the same thing

 

Enrique Restoy, Director of International Programmes at Hope for Justice, used his address to outline the dangerous trend in government policies and media coverage of conflating people smuggling and human trafficking.
He said: “It is crucial that these two responses are clearly differentiated in practice to ensure that the human rights of all migrants are upheld and, in the specific case of human trafficking, victims are appropriately identified and supported instead of being prosecuted for their irregular migration status.”

 

After exploring the differences between human trafficking and people smuggling, Enrique Restoy explained how criminal groups who smuggle migrants can be the same as those trafficking human beings. Therefore, supporting victims of trafficking through the criminal justice system can help lead to the prosecutions of both smugglers and traffickers. But this opportunity is often missed as states shorten the length of time which victims of trafficking are granted to collaborate with criminal investigations before they are considered as illegal migrants.

 

Enrique Restoy then addressed how criminal investigations and the criminal justice process should focus on targeting people smugglers rather than prosecuting migrants or those fleeing conflict for illegal entry. In the case of asylum seekers, there are few or no safe and legal routes to humanitarian protection, which pushes those seeking sanctuary into illegal routes and into the control of smugglers, or traffickers who intend to exploit them at their final destination. Restoy called for “effective frameworks for safe and legal migration so as to reduce irregular migration”.

 

Hope for Justice want to thank the UN Office on Drugs & Crime (UNODC) Civil Society Unit for inviting us to contribute to this first ever series of Constructive Dialogues. It was an excellent opportunity to share information and best practice, to raise awareness of the ever-present threat of human trafficking, and the power of civil society to assist with investigations and prosecutions, especially by supporting survivors. We look forward to sharing what we learn over the coming year at the next Constructive Dialogues in 2023.