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Legal aid cuts 'will force victims of human trafficking to claim asylum'

25 October 2011

Victims of human trafficking who end up in the UK could be forced to claim asylum to stay in the country, the general secretary of the Immigration Law Practitioners Group has warned.

Alison Harvey said asylum claims would continue to be publicly funded under the legal aid bill, but other immigration cases would not, apart from those involving detention or questions of national security.

“If you say you cannot go back because you will be persecuted, your case will stay in scope,” Harvey said. “If you say there is no danger to me but I do not want to go back because I have a relationship here, your case will not be covered.

“An example would be many of the domestic worker cases, where very few are in danger of persecution in their countries of origin.”

Harvey said legal aid was also being removed from appeals before the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.

She said victims of human trafficking had been getting compensation for injuries and abuse inflicted by convicted traffickers.

“Without legal advice they would not know about compensation,” Harvey said. “It’s often a very lengthy process. They are going to struggle.”

She said people without immigration status were not allowed to work or claim benefits and had no money to pay for advice.

“When you look at what people have been through, trafficking cases are incredibly serious. One of the worse things about trafficking is retrafficking. If you are sent back, will someone traffick you again?

“I suspect we will see a large number of people claiming asylum, though it is not necessarily the best solution for them.”

Harvey said that, rather than creating a separate protected category of work for human trafficking, immigration advice as a whole should remain within the scope of the legal aid scheme.

“Trafficking is difficult to identify. If legal aid was limited to trafficking only, an awful lot of people would go without help.”

In a separate development a film about trafficking, including the trafficking of young Eastern European girls in Europe for prostitution, was premiered at the Curzon Mayfair in London last week.

Not My Life, written and directed by Robert Bilheimer and narrated by Glenn Close, depicted modern day slavery and trafficking across five continents. The premiere was hosted by LexisNexis and the CNN Freedom Project.

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Legal Aid