The number of trafficking cases referred to the British authorities rose to 946 last year from 710 in 2010, according to the latest government figures, which show more than two thirds of the victims are women and girls.
The report by a ministerial group on human trafficking said that females accounted for 634 of the people trafficked to the UK in 2011 – mainly for sexual exploitation, labour exploitation and domestic servitude. Of the total, 234 were children.
“Fuelled primarily by those who seek to make a profit from the misery of others, human trafficking is the vilest of crimes and equates to modern day slavery,” the report said.
“Men, women and children from across the world are exploited and forced into performing services or other work against their will … Those who are exploited may face years of sexual abuse, forced labour or domestic servitude, and in many instances never fully recover from their traumatic experience,” it added.
The rise in trafficking cases may be explained by improvements in identifying victims. But even so, campaigners say the figure could be much higher, as many people are too afraid to speak out, fearing reprisals from their traffickers or deportation back home.
The report said that, although cases of sexual exploitation were the most common among those referred, there was growing evidence of people being trafficked for labour exploitation and criminal activities such as benefit fraud or street begging.
It also said the UK had encountered its first two cases of trafficking for illegal organ removal. In one case, the intention was to sell the victim’s kidney, and in the other it was to provide that organ for a relative. But in both cases the victims were detected and stopped before the operations were carried out, the report said.
PREVENTION AND PROSECUTION
Organised crime gangs in countries including Nigeria, China, Vietnam, Romania and Slovakia pose the biggest threat to Britain, the government said. It is working with these countries to tackle the problem at source by lobbying for changes to their laws.
The British government also said UK prosecutors have been based in so-called priority countries to help improve their response to traffickers, as well as to train local judges, prosecutors and investigators to deal with offences more effectively, and to gather evidence for prosecutions in the UK.
UK airlines Virgin Atlantic and Thomas Cook are training cabin crew to spot potential traffickers and their victims, and a 24-hour hotline has been set up for crew to report concerns to border officials before a plane lands in Britain.
Immigration Minister Mark Harper was quoted as saying Britain is doing a better job of cracking down on people involved in trafficking, while acknowledging that the number of prosecutions is not high enough.
In 2011, there were eight human trafficking convictions in England and Wales.
“One of the things we do is to prosecute people for the most serious offences we can, and sometimes that’s not a trafficking offence,” Harper told BBC Radio 5 Live.
The report identifies three main areas for improvement: the collection of data on trafficking and intelligence sharing; training of professionals most likely to come into contact with trafficking victims, such as border police; and coordinating activities to prevent trafficking.
According to the report: