Human trafficking survivors could be sent to Rwanda, new guidance says
By Lili Donlon-Mansbridge, producer, and Anushka Asthana, ITV News deputy political editor
The government will be able to send survivors of human trafficking - who are known to have suffered "physical or psychological harm" - to a third 'safe' country, which could include Rwanda, according to fresh guidance.
A recent update to a Home Office document appears to give ministers explicit permission to send people, who are proven victims of trafficking, to another country for assistance, instead of supporting them here.
Confirmed trafficking survivors were already at risk of being removed to Rwanda under the original policy.
But this new guidance - laid out in a document entitled "Temporary Permission to Stay Considerations for Victims of Human Trafficking or Slavery" - makes the rules even tighter.
The document suggests that those individuals could be given "assistance needed to recover from any physical or psychological harm arising from exploitation can be provided in another safe country".
According to the Home Office, the new rules are not intended to send trafficking survivors to Rwanda, but to help move them to another safe country they are "familiar" with, and "where they can access wider support networks."
Sources suggested that this line was particularly aimed at Albanians, allowing the government to return them to their home country even if their journey has involved trafficking.
But the guidance is unclear, raising concerns that victims could be sent to other, unfamiliar third countries deemed safe by the Home Office.
Robyn Phillips, Director of Operations at the Human Trafficking Foundation, said there is a risk that the policy could strengthen human traffickers, and make it harder to prosecute them.
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She said: "One of the major risks is that threatening to remove victims of trafficking from the country plays into the hands of the traffickers, who already use fear of the Home Office as a control technique to keep victims in slavery.
"Now, traffickers can legitimately tell victims that if they escape they may be deported to Rwanda. A terrifying prospect which will stop victims of modern slavery seeking help.
"Victims of trafficking need to know that if they come forward, they will be believed and they will be protected. This is what keeps victims safe, helps prosecute the traffickers and prevent further cases of modern slavery."
She argued that removal to an unfamiliar third country with no source of income could also increase the risk of a person being trafficked again.
Currently, no asylum seeker has been sent to Rwanda under the government's flagship Migration and Economic Development Partnership, and there are questions over the country's capacity to cope with the numbers that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wants to remove.
Tomorrow, his government will bring forward legislation aimed at blocking anyone who arrives via small boat to claim asylum - even if their claim is likely to be successful.
Home office sources confirmed that ministers are seeking to agree similar style deals with other countries, with rumours focused on Uganda and Ghana, which will raise further concerns with legal and human rights organisations.
It is unclear how tomorrow's Bill will differ from the current rules under the New Plan for Immigration (2022), but a Home Office source said that it will massively toughen inadmissibility rules for people who cross the channel.
The Refugee Council's Executive Director Enver Solomon criticised the government's approach as "unworkable and costly", arguing that we need to remember we are talking about people.
"We cannot forget that we are dealing with the lives of real people - men, women and children who deserve to be given a fair hearing on UK soil, in line with our country's long-standing commitment to upholding human rights and supporting people seeking safety," he said.
"The government must continue to hold our values as one of the founding signatories of the UN Convention on Refugees."
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