LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain is failing to live up to its promise to protect victims of modern slavery, charities said on Thursday, lambasting the government for refusing asylum to a Vietnamese orphan who was trafficked into the country’s cannabis industry.
Charities said the decision to deport 19-year-old Stephen called into question Prime Minister Theresa May’s vow to lead global efforts to end the modern slave trade, by cracking down on traffickers and protecting its victims with a landmark law.
“This really undermines the government’s statements about fighting slavery and being a world leader in this field,” said Chloe Setter of anti-child trafficking organization ECPAT UK.
“Such decisions are sadly not uncommon,” Setter told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
She spoke after a group of about 30 charities wrote to Britain’s interior ministry (Home Office) to back Stephen’s asylum appeal, which is due to be heard next week.
Trafficked at ten, then locked up, beaten and forced into illegal drugs work, the Vietnamese teenager faces deportation after his request to stay in Britain was rejected in December.
Despite being legally recognized as a victim of slavery, Stephen - who cannot be named for legal reasons - will be sent back to a country where he has no family, leaving him vulnerable to exploitation and renewed trafficking, campaigners say.
In Britain, 1,278 children suspected to have been trafficked - most trapped in domestic servitude, forced labor or sexual exploitation - were referred to the government in 2016, up 30 percent on 2015 and marking the highest number on record.
Yet child victims of slavery have no guarantee of specialist support or sufficient time to remain and recover, activists say.
“This makes it difficult for young people to build a stable life, access education and plan for their future,” Setter said.
A spokeswoman for Britain’s Home Office said the country had a “proud history” of granting asylum to those in need of protection, and that it assessed each case on merit.
A proposed law - put forward by parliament’s upper chamber and announced last week - would let slavery victims stay in Britain for a year and receive support while deciding whether to apply to remain indefinitely, or accept help to return home.
Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org