On 10th May 2023, during a debate on the Illegal Migration Bill, the Bishop of Gloucester made a speech expressing concerns regarding the bill, with particular reference to the risks it would pose to women who are victims of domestic violence, sexual exploitation, and human trafficking:
My Lords, it is a privilege to add my voice to this debate. I echo much of what has already been said, including by my friends the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. I will focus my remarks on the impact of this Bill on women, including victims and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence—all of it set, as you might expect, within my belief that every person is created in the image of God. We are talking here about people with names, not faceless numbers.
I hear the Minister’s concerns about the statistics around modern slavery but this issue needs much more careful analysis, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said. Other noble Lords have highlighted many of the issues around modern slavery. Surely it cannot be right that no one who arrives here by irregular means will be eligible to receive modern slavery support. As we have heard, this Bill proposes that victims of modern slavery will instead be subject to detention and removal. This seems wrong on so many levels, not least morally, but it will also be a substantial law enforcement issue. Why would anyone come forward as a victim of modern slavery and risk being sent to Rwanda? My right reverend friends the Bishops of London and Bristol will be following these issues with interest and concern.
There are many crossovers for victims and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. For five years, the SEREDA Project at the University of Birmingham and across other international universities has been researching refugees’ experiences of displacement from the Middle East and north Africa to the point at which people seek refuge. These academics warn that this Bill will increase vulnerability and the risk of exploitation, and will unfairly punish survivors who have unknowingly come to Britain. Safe countries, even some of our closest neighbours, are not necessarily safe for a woman who has been sex trafficked to that country or abused by smugglers in-flight. She will want to put as much distance as possible between her and the perpetrators. There is nothing in this Bill to ensure that such victims will receive the support that they need in these countries to prevent the resumption of abuse.
If this Bill is enacted in its current form, Albania will be added to the list of safe countries from which people will never be accepted. There are questions there for me around gender disparity. If a large percentage of male asylum seekers from Albania are sent back but the vast majority of women are accepted at present, surely that implies that it may not be safe for them there.
I add my voice to those speaking against the indefinite detention of pregnant women. I strongly support the call from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for the 72-hour time limit to be reinstated. The impact of detention on this group may include considerable, extremely serious health repercussions, including for their unborn children, who may be harmed by the stress and trauma of detention.
Across all these points, I see a worrying failure to recognise the trauma experienced by victims. I will not say more at this point—so much has been said—but I hope that we will pick up on many of these issues in Committee, so that we ensure that we shape our legislation in a way that enables our country to be an appropriate place of sanctuary, not harm.
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