Research gives voice to mothers trafficked into the UK
The research published this month in the British Journal of Community Justice, and undertaken at the University of Hull, also highlighted issues in allowing trafficked wives rights to children born during a forced marriage.
Led by Dr Maria De Angelis, a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences at Leeds Beckett, the PhD study gives a voice to trafficked women by presenting their perspectives on policy support. The research presents experiences gathered between December 2008 and February 2010, from 24 survivors living in the UK. It also considers the experiences of anti-trafficking professionals about their work with victims.
The women - all mothers - were aged between 22 and 42 when interviewed and of nationalities including: Algerian, Bangladeshi, British Pakistani, Chinese, Gambian, Indian, Iraqi, Kenyan, Moldovan, Nigerian, Pakistani, Somalian, Sudanese, Turkish and Ukrainian.
Dr De Angelis commented: “The study focuses on women’s views on: material help; health care and social support; a perceived culture of disbelief; and family rights. Their narratives highlight a continuation of exploitation through restrictive policy practices, and identify gaps in policy and provision around family reunification, loss of children, and rights for trafficked wives.
“The findings are also reviewed against assistance stipulated in the Council of Europe Convention (2005), and the newer anti-trafficking measures introduced by the EU Parliamentary Directive (EUP, 2011), emphasising the limitations of current policies and practices.
“Twenty-four participants whose movements included trafficking, a mixture of smuggling and trafficking, or a forced migration anonymously took part in the study. Women with a forced migration are economic migrants whose journeys cross other forms of movement ending in slavery-like practices. For example, one woman sought help from a smuggler to escape persecution in her home country and arrived in the UK without documentation and in debt bondage.
“Within this participant group, trafficking exploitations fell into three categories – sexual exploitation, forced marriage, and forced labour – though, as with movement, some women experience more than one form of exploitation. One participant was trafficked into a forced marriage at home and for labour exploitation in a factory. Another woman was trafficked for forced marriage and sold for prostitution amongst her husband’s acquaintances.”
Some of the research participants’ children had been left behind in their home country and/or born to British husbands during a forced marriage. With the shortest and longest stay in the UK at one and seven years respectively, most of the women had been in the country between 12-36 months. The two women who had been in the UK for the longest were content with their immigration status. One had indefinite leave to remain and the other had leave to remain grounded in humanitarian protection and was hopeful of receiving indefinite leave. The rest of the women had either refused or been refused a victim of trafficking status and were dependent on anti-trafficking projects and women-centred charities for help, either as asylum applicants or exiles fearing reprisals and re-trafficking if returned home.
Of the women interviewed there was a general consensus of doubt in the ability of the police and immigration services to protect them whilst investigating them.
One victim said: “When I was in Albania, I was in a hotel and watched by two men with Kalashnikovs. At night, just to scare us, they are shooting into the air. Just to show us they are the mens, you know. They have the power, they are the Mafia, they can do whatever they want. Even the policemens come to join them, have a cup of tea. What can you do with that? When I was here in this country, I was scared of policeman (sic).”
The study also revealed that women who have been trafficked into a forced marriage live in real fear of being deported without their British-born children.
Another woman stated: “When my daughter was 16 -17 month old, an Indian neighbour, she asked me if I was alright and she told me my mother-in-law planning to send me back to India and keep my daughter here. She said where your passport? I say I don’t have my passport. What about your visa. I say I don’t know anything about that. She said, then I could be sent back and my daughter kept here. I cry (sic).”
Dr De Angelis, explained: “Women trafficked into a forced marriage become disposable once their usefulness (for bearing children, caring for a disabled husband, or earning from prostitution) wane. When this happens, women lose welfare entitlements accessible inside the marriage, have no independent recourse to public funds, and risk deportation without spousal or work visas proving their eligibility to be in the UK.
“Crucially, the women interviewed identified policy gaps in reuniting trafficked mothers with children left behind in home countries, and in allowing trafficked wives rights to children born during a forced marriage. Participant experiences also showcase the criticality of identifying forced marriage within a context of trafficking as a legitimate trafficking crime. Against this policy backdrop of restrictive practices, women display resilience in rebuilding social and economic networks lost through trafficking. Ultimately, they and their remarkable voices show that survivors have much to add to the discourse of policy support for women trafficked into the UK.
Dr De Angelis’s PhD was supervised by leading expert in migration and families, Dr Majella Kilkey (formerly of the University of Hull, now at the University of Sheffield) and Dr Helen Johnston, Co-Director of the Centre for Criminology & Criminal Justice at the University of Hull. Professor Gary Craig – the world’s first Professor in Social Justice - sponsored the research with a bursary from the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation (WISE). A Professor at Durham University, Gary Craig is founding Fellow of WISE.