14 Feb 2011

Trafficking victims claim human rights breach

Channel 4 News has learnt that a charity that represents the victims of human trafficking has launched legal action against the Government over a 40 per cent cut in its funding.

Trafficking victims claim human rights breach

The Poppy Project has accused the Ministry of Justice of failing to consult on proposals which, it claims, would breach European laws guaranteeing protection to trafficking victims.

Since 2008 the Poppy Project has been funded by the Office for Criminal Justice Reform (OCJR), which reports to the Ministry of Justice.

The charity has two-year funding worth £3.9million, which has allowed it to help and provide secure accommodation for 161 victims for an average of eight months each – and additional support for 326 other women.

But, following a tendering process for the contract, the charity’s budget now faces a cut of 40 per cent or more – to £1-2million – which, it says, will mean that trafficking victims will not get help beyond 30 days.

The Poppy Project’s national co-ordinator, Abigail Stepnitz, told Channel 4 News that currently the minimum period for which services could be provided for victims was 45 days.

“Ideally we would be looking at a minimum of 90 days,” she added. “Not only is that what is considered best practice by the Council of Europe, but that is what many other European governments have implemented.”

The charity says the reduction in service time is likely to impact on the support services the women receive and claim their human rights may have been breached.

The victims

It has brought the case on behalf of two anonymous victims – Ms X and Ms Y – who use support services provided by the non-profit-making charity.

Ms X is said to have complex on-going mental health needs and has had intensive support, counselling and access to education at the Poppy Project. It says a cut in future funding would mean that she would be unable to sustain a recovery.

Ms Y was referred in January after escaping a brothel where she had been detained against her will since August 2010. She is pregnant and waiting for the results of HIV and TB tests.

“When they arrived here, they were faced with brutality and violence and slavery – Ms X in a situation of domestic servitude and Ms Y in a situation of sexual exploitation,” said Abigal Stepnitz. “Since coming on to the project they have been able to access medical care , mental health care, immigration and other types of legal advice.”

The Ministry of Justice told Channel 4 News that it would fight the legal action. Although the funding model was changing, £2million per year of funding was still to be allocated to supporting victims – but not necessarily just to the Poppy Project.