New York, NY

Trafficking in the United Kingdom is growing and unlikely to decrease despite new measures put in place by the British government, according to a new report by the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children.

“While the British government has made trafficking legislation and enforcement a priority, its emphasis on the criminalization of trafficking and prosecution of traffickers without regard for the protection of trafficking victims is highly problematic,” said Wendy Young, director of external affairs for the Women’s Commission and author of the report. “Legal mechanisms are important, but anti-trafficking policies must also address the protection of victims and raise public awareness to prevent trafficking from occurring.”

Trafficking statistics are difficult to track but it is believed that UK trafficking victims number in at least the hundreds every year and much more likely in the thousands, and are rising. Human traffickers in the UK generally force their victims into prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation, abusive labor or domestic slavery. Most trafficking victims are women and children from Asia, West Africa and Eastern Europe.

While the root cause of trafficking is usually considered to be poverty, the report found that source countries are either experiencing conflict, recovering from conflict or have dubious human rights records. Many of the countries are characterized by a lack of recognition of the rights of women and children; some are known for rights violations that rise to the level of persecution.

The report released today, The Struggle Between Migration Control and Victim Protection: The UK Approach to Human Trafficking, outlines the limited anti-trafficking progress made by the British authorities in the last five years. It also highlights how the UK has embraced increasingly restrictive asylum laws that dramatically affect the ability of individuals seeking refuge from persecution or other harm to access the protection they need.

“Trafficking will not end, and likely will continue to increase, unless effective strategies are developed that prevent communities at risk from becoming vulnerable, that protect and assist trafficking victims and that bring the full force of the law against traffickers,” says Young. “Trafficking cannot be addressed through the lens of migration control. Interception efforts will only drive traffickers elsewhere and will do little to protect their victims. It’s a human rights problem that deserves the full condemnation and a concerted and integrated response from the international community.”

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