About 40 women and men attended. Special guests included Abhijit Dasgupta and Sunitha Rangaswamy of Action Aid, India. Other participants included: representatives from Bail for Immigration Detainees, Black Women’s Rape Action Project, the Churches Commission for Racial Justice and other people from the church, No School Apartheid, sex workers from Soho, the Soho Society, detainee visitors, Women Against Rape, several immigration solicitors and other lawyers and a couple of Green Party members.
After an introduction by Nina Lopez-Jones, Niki Adams gave an overview of the implications of a clause on trafficking in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill. She outlined how this legislation and a proposed new Bill would make women even more vulnerable to violence and deportation and could criminalise anyone who attempted to help victims of traffickers. The proposed removal of the support asylum seekers and their children rely on would force more women into the sex industry.
Ms Adams also traced how academic research which laid the basis for these measures by advocating “increased surveillance of prostitute women”, “removing the need for victims to give evidence” and pressing for “repatriation and reintergration for trafficked persons” had ignored women’s needs and experiences so that instead of getting protection women were now in a more vulnerable position than before.
Two young Eastern European women described fleeing to the UK to escape poverty and violence. Both had been raped and forced into prostitution. They escaped with help from other sex workers and members of the public. LAW had helped them find housing, legal advice and other support. A statement was read from a Thai woman who wanted to remain anonymous, describing how in spite of having the right to stay in Britain, she was visited by police who said they were looking for victims of trafficking. She was threatened with deportation, forced to undress in front of male police officers, taken to the police station, and generally terrorised into leaving her flat. She had come to LAW for help in complaining about this treatment.
Women from Soho spoke about the impact of the ongoing police and immigration raids carried out in Soho and how illegal deportations have been prevented by the intervention of LAW. A representative of the Soho Society which represents residents spoke in support of sex workers.
Abhijit Dasgupta gave a riveting and in-depth account of how he as part of Action Aid (India) is pressing for a different approach to trafficking internationally. He described how Action Aid had quickly found that anti-trafficking measures were being used internationally to prevent the migration of people, especially women who are driven by poverty and globalisation to move country. Governments claim that millions of women are being trafficked by a billion dollar sex industry but the UNHCR and others have pointed out that because of tightening immigration controls paying an agent is often the only way to migrate. Governments and most NGOs only focus on sexual exploitation, ignoring the horrendous exploitation in sweatshops and agricultural labour, including here in the UK. Mr Dasgupta explained that Action Aid India worked very closely with sex workers organisations as they had found this to be the most effective way to help victims of trafficking. He welcomed the workshop as an opportunity to come together with others to try to change the focus from trafficking to the urgent question of poverty and women’s right to mobility.
A very full and interesting discussion followed which addressed the issue of what practical changes are needed to ensure protection and safety for women starting with resources for those fleeing violence.
The workshop was stimulating, informative and extremely useful in re-examining trafficking and anti-trafficking policies from women’s point of view. A church representative described it as a “clear corrective” to many myths and misinformation on the issue. Two lawyers agreed to help women facing deportation. It was also agreed to urgently consider how the discussion and practical issues raised could reach a wider audience. Many of those present expressed an interest in doing ongoing work on this issue.