The UK Home Office is facing criticism over its policy on women trafficked from Nigeria to Europe.
A section of a policy document updated in June by the UK immigration agency said that while victims face the risk of being trafficked again to pay off debts owed to their traffickers, those who become “wealthy from prostitution” were being celebrated on their return.
Citing the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) as one of its sources, the policy document said “trafficked women who return from Europe, wealthy from prostitution, enjoy high social-economic status and in general are not subject to negative social attitudes on return. They are often held in high regard because they have improved income prospects.”
Godwin Morka, head of research for Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), said it was “disappointing” that the Home Office would suggest that victims were profiting from their exploitation.
“The victims have been exploited and tricked in the first place. They are not the traffickers, who make money from enslaving them. There is nothing glamorous about it and by the time we rescue them they are so traumatized,” Morka told CNN.
Labour MP Kate Osamor said the remarks depicted human trafficking as a job and did not reflect the plight of victims.
She called on the Home Office to issue an apology and quickly amend the policy, which serves as a reference document on trafficking in Nigeria.
“Home Office need to apologise ASAP and rewrite policy,” she tweeted, adding that, “It shows the Home office doesn’t trust people who go through these experiences. You’d expect authorities to take them in, listen and unpack their experience and not treat trafficking like it’s a job.”
Immigration barrister Charlotte Proudman called the policy a “deplorable guidance.”
In an email statement sent to CNN on Tuesday, a Home Office spokesperson said the assessment “accurately” reflects findings from two credible sources — the EASO and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The section, will, however be reviewed to avoid misinterpretation.
“As the assessment also makes clear, each case must be considered on the facts in the context of the available country information and relevant case law. Where a female victim of trafficking is vulnerable to serious harm she will usually be granted protection,” Home Office said.
“In light of these concerns, we will however review the text of the assessment to avoid it being misinterpreted by decision makers.”
Thousands of people are illegally trafficked from Nigeria to destinations in Europe and Africa every year. Many of them, mostly women and girls, are forced into labor and sexually exploited to finance their stay abroad.
In April, the UK government and NAPTIP began a campaign to encourage Nigerian to find jobs at home instead of risking their lives to travel to foreign countries in search of opportunities.
Morenike Omaiboje, director of programs for the Women Consortium of Nigeria (WOCON), a local organization rehabilitating trafficked women, said there were many forms of human trafficking in the country.
Although most victims become impoverished on their return to the country having being sold into slavery abroad, some have made money off recruiting girls into prostitution rings in Europe.
“Majority of the victims that we meet at the borders and airport are wretched, especially those who were enslaved are wretched. But some are the Madams, who were trafficked many years back, but got recycled, and they are now rich because they are enslaving others,” Omaiboje told CNN.