20 April 2022, The Tablet

Britain's record on justice for migrants is 'appalling'

“We are living in quite appalling times in terms of justice and equality and a humane human rights approach to the law.”

Britain's record on justice for migrants is 'appalling'

Loreto sister Imelda Poole, president of Renate, a network of religious congregations in Europe fighting human trafficking.
CNS photo/Carol Glatz

A Religious sister who has spearheaded the fight against modern slavery across 27 countries in Europe has criticised Britain’s track record on care and justice for migrants describing it as “appalling”.

Addressing The Tablet webinar, “Persecuted Christians; trafficking and the plight of migrants”, Sr Imelda Poole IBVM said Britain is one of the worst countries in Europe for offering legal aid services to migrants or any exploited people.

“We are living in quite appalling times in terms of justice and equality and a humane human rights approach to the law. We should be humbled and truly disgraced and acknowledge that as neutral citizens in this country,” the Loreto sister said.

Sr Poole received an MBE for her efforts to combat modern slavery as President of Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking and Exploitation (Renate).

Describing today’s context as a “terrifying world”, Sr Imelda highlighted how 281 million people – “more than ever in the Second World War – are now on the move, facing extreme danger through natural or unnatural disasters, wars, and incredible conflict and fear, which is growing in our world today”.

She related how as President of Mary Ward Loreto, a project tackling human trafficking in Albania, she has been working with some young people who came to Britain with visas to work in jobs with businesses registered in the UK. But over time the employers had sought to use their employees as drugs mules in Britain.

“These businesses are hiding the actual source of their wealth, which is drug trafficking, and they are using human beings as mules to traffic the drugs. Many of these young people have been imprisoned in Britain because of this crime, and some have been deported. We are picking up these beautiful young people who have been terribly abused in Britain.”

She described how in Britain, Albanians make up the largest number of adult trafficking victims followed by Vietnamese, and then Chinese.

“When we talk about minors, the highest number of trafficked children in Britain are British. It is domestic trafficking. There is a massive racket and treating human beings like lumps of meat in the market for selling, and children are particularly vulnerable to this.” According to Sr Imelda, children from care homes are particularly vulnerable.

Keith Leslie, chair of Samaritans in Britain, highlighted that the organisation gets a disproportionate number of calls from people held in institutions of the state such as care homes, prisons, asylum hostels or private sector children's homes.

“That's where we see a very high incidence of mental ill health, which is not being met, and ultimately suicidal ideas and plans being developed – wherever people are being held against their will, or in poorer surroundings, then people are dramatically at risk.”

He also revealed that the group most likely to take their own lives are low income, middle-aged men, while the fastest growing group is young males.

During the first lockdown of the pandemic in March 2020 the number of calls to the Samaritans went up overnight by 15 percent and that increase has held since then. It has not dropped off with the end of lockdown measures.

At the same time that the Samaritans saw an increase in calls, the number of volunteers fell by 20 percent overnight because many long-standing volunteers had to shield and therefore were unable to come into branches to take calls.

“So, we saw an immense squeeze on the Samaritans resources.”

Across Britain and Ireland, Samaritans deal with a quarter of a million calls per month from people in distress.

John Newton, senior press officer at ACN, told the webinar that he was particularly concerned about Christian girls and those from minority faiths who are kidnapped, forced to marry and convert in countries like Pakistan and Egypt.  

He highlighted the plight of Maira Shahbaz in Pakistan. In 2020, the 14-year-old catholic schoolgirl was abducted, raped and forced to sign a statement that she had converted to Islam. Though she managed to escape from her abusive captor, she has since been in hiding out of fear of reprisal, and has been accused of apostasy.

Despite a petition lodged by ACN Britain, the British Government has failed to grant her asylum.

  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99