The British High Court has ruled that victims of human trafficking should be granted leave to remain in the UK, a decision that could impact hundreds of Albanians each year.
Before the ruling, those who the government accepted were victims of trafficking could be sent back to their country of origin, despite the risks of being trafficked again. This led to many requesting asylum or special protection, meaning years of court cases before a final decision could be reached.
While their case is under consideration, they are left unable to work, study, or access the benefits system leaving many struggling to survive. All this is on top of the trauma most suffer due to being trafficked in the first place.
The ruling announced on Tuesday (12 October) means that trafficking victims who ask for leave to remain in the UK will receive it en masse. The decision applies to thousands of victims currently in the UK.
It came after a legal challenge from a 33-year-old Vietnamese woman forced into sex work and trafficked to the UK. She was recognised as a victim of trafficking, but she was detained in an immigration detention centre.
The British government has until 19 October to announce an intention to appeal.
This weeks ruling is good news for Albanian sex and forced labour trafficking victims. Every year, hundreds of predominantly women and children are trafficked from Alania to the UK. Others are forced to work on cannabis farms or in other illegal activities. Many apply for asylum but face returning to Albania as it’s considered a safe country of origin.
Those who have been trafficked for sex overwhelmingly face rejection from families and society, as well as being re-trafficked. Support systems, including mental health support, bac to work schemes, and witness protection programmes, are severely lacking in the country.
In the UK, 2019 saw just under 4,000 applications for asylum, alongside 6,298 pending requests due to being decided on. In the same year, 279 received asylum. The following year, in 2020, Albania was in the top five for asylum requests in the UK, with 3,071 requests in the first instance. Some 38% were successful in their claim.
As one of the countries with the highest number of asylum applications, it ranks alongside Iran, Senegal, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This doesn’t bode well for the Western Balkan nation who had been told to slash numbers to join the EU.
A 2020 interview with Petya Nestorova, the Executive Secretary of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA), highlighted the risks of sending victims of crime back to Albania.
“It’s important to consider all of the risks before sending them back to Albania…In France, women have been granted asylum after being trafficked because returning to Albania is seen as carrying risks… this should be used more,” she said, adding that “returning women to places where they will be ostracised is not a way to combat human trafficking.”
Statistics from VATRA, an Albanian NGO that works with trafficked women and girls, said that over half are rejected by their families upon return. Every year, women and girls are at risk of being re-trafficked or being driven into the hands of criminals due to poverty.
Exit spoke to an expert country witness who provided information on Albania to the UK Home Office and in court cases for more than 20 years. They described the numbers and reasons why Albanians are applying for asylum abroad.
“I see shifts in numbers and reasons for asylum claims. In the 90s, it was those fleeing blood feuds. They have decreased gradually over the years, but I still saw 10 such cases in 2020. Trafficking of women, those fleeing planned marriages, and being trafficked into prostitution is the category with the most cases. About one third were successful in claiming asylum.”
They continued, “There are many other reasons I have seen for seeking asylum; severe domestic violence, specialist health issues, fleeing loan sharks, police mistreatment, and attacks due to political affiliation,” they added.
When asked if they felt these claims were founded or unfounded, they explained that by the time cases reached them, they had been intensively questioned, and more dubious circumstances had been weeded out.
“I just supply the missing link due to cultural misunderstanding, for example, why didn’t a woman, forced to marry someone against her will, report to the police? It has to be spelt out in court that such a woman has usually had minimal education, has NO idea of her rights, in any case, her family would prevent her, and that anyway the police would not take her seriously, and just return her to her family,” they said, adding this had happened in several cases.
Under the new decision, more women and girls and men trafficked by criminals can have a chance at a better life.
John Stokes, a foster parent to an Albanian trafficking victim with severe PTSD who faces being deported from the UK, called for the decision to be applied retrospectively.
“Following yesterdays High Court Judgement in favour of victims of Trafficking victims being granted Leave to Remain in the UK we are preparing a letter to ask that Samet be retrospectively granted similar Leave.” https://t.co/nsZcLrdUGf
— John Stokes 💙 (@MusicworksJon) October 13, 2021
18-year-old Samet reported that he was beaten and abused before being made to beg on the streets of Albania at age 11. He was then sold into slavery and trafficked to the UK when he was just 15 years old.
Three years later, he lives with a foster family, attends college, and plans to become a carpenter. He was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following his traumatic childhood but has become “part of the family” with John Stokes and his foster brothers, Ali and Dave.
Stokes set up a petition to try and stop the Home Office from deporting him.
“Our family greatly fears for his safety and health if he is sent away,” the petition states.
“Deprived of education for many years, Samet grasped the opportunity of school and then college where his efforts are described as outstanding in all areas. His dreams of being a carpenter and the sort of ordinary life most of us take for granted were always clouded by the daily fear that he could be rejected by the nation that’s given him hope for the first time.”
Stokes said he could not bear to see Samet’s dreams being shattered, and he hoped the boy would become a part of his family for the rest of his life. He mentioned the pain of telling him that the Home Office had decided to return him to Albania.