A short-term Olympic facelift cannot fix long-term human trafficking
The Olympics-motivated cooperation between the Metropolitan and the Romanian police is the most recent attempt to clear London’s streets of groups of beggars at a time when the eyes of the world are on the city. While it is perhaps understandable that the authorities will take a tough law and order stance at this time or all times, such a response will not address the long-term and deep rooted issues which lie behind this public nuisance.
In an IPPR briefing just published we argue that the government needs to reassess its response and introduce new long-lasting initiatives which balance tackling crime and disorder and immigration management with victim protection. The current crime-focused partnership is a missed opportunity to incorporate much-needed anti-trafficking work into bilateral operations.
This is not to decry the cooperation between the London and Romanian police forces, which is very welcome, and provides an opportunity to exchange good practice. But previous police cooperation to tackle begging and crime, under “Operation Golf”, revealed that many Roma children were being trafficked into the UK, and recent data show the largest number of potential victims of trafficking from the EU – that are assessed through the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – come from Romania.
That knowledge does not seem to have been factored into the current operation which is focussed solely on clearing the streets, arrest, and prosecution. Quite apart from the fact that serious issues of victim exploitation are not being addressed, this approach to the problem of beggars and petty criminals (some underage), controlled by gangs, will keep coming back, if the underlying social problems are not addressed.
It is not as if the government does not realise that ultimately only an “end-to-end” response will succeed. Indeed, just such a response is outlined in the current UK Trafficking strategy. This strategy does make clear that the root causes of exploitation in the source countries and the root causes of demand in the UK need to be tackled.
In the case of the Romanian Roma there are vulnerabilities that lead to exploitation: minimal education, poverty, marginalisation in the home country, family exploitation prior to trafficking etc. Unless these are addressed, Roma people are likely to keep reappearing on the streets of London. At the same time the UK needs to do more to address the structural demand for cheap labour and to target unscrupulous organised groups or individuals that exploit vulnerable migrants.
A real exchange of good practice would train Romanian officers to identify potential victims of trafficking (who are often criminalised in Romania) even before they reach the UK. The UK could also help Romania to provide appropriate protection (virtually non-existent in Romania), so that victims do not fall back into exploitation. In exchange, the Romanian police could explain to their British counterparts the mechanisms used to control and recruit child beggars, and also brief them on family structures and survival strategies of Roma families.
Realistically, these types of initiatives cannot be replicated with all major countries that victims of trafficking come from, especially in the more sensitive case of non-EU migrants. In these cases, the Border Agency is likely to retain a strong immigration rather than protection approach. Co-operation is also not the answer to all problems as other countries such as Nigeria (a country of origin of many potential trafficking victims) has a worse judicial system and far less resources than Romania. But if Metropolitan-Romanian police initiative included a balanced response to crime and protection, it could have the potential for setting a positive precedent and ensuring that another legacy of the Olympics was a more sustainable approach to tackling human trafficking.Tagged in: crime, HOMELESS, London 2012, olympics, police, poverty, Romania, trafficking
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