Human trafficking and the lack of checks on road transport

The Guardian - 24 Oct 2019

After completing our review of the Modern Slavery Act, which the government asked us to undertake, Maria Miller MP, Baroness Butler-Sloss and I have gone on to conduct an inquiry into trafficking for sexual exploitation. As part of our evidence-gathering sessions, we heard from representatives from immigration enforcement and Border Force teams. What they told us was shocking and leads me to believe that our country risks cases like the awful tragedy of the lorry found in Essex being far from unique (Police work to identify 39 people found dead in lorry, 24 October).

While advance passenger information is available for those who enter the country by plane, allowing some time for security checks and potential victims of human trafficking to be identified, no such data exists for those who come in by car or lorry. The only checks that are done happen when someone leaves the UK, not when they arrive, but since it only takes 45 minutes on the Eurotunnel to reach France, we heard that people flagged as suspects or victims are well inside mainland Europe before the information has even travelled from Border Force to the border police.

Unlike with air travel, someone can just “turn up and go” – there is no necessary delay between buying a ticket and departure and, most importantly, one does not have to list one’s passengers. There is no legal requirement even to provide the names of passengers on a Eurotunnel booking, and only about 40% do so.

Of course the criminals know this. But what was most appalling was that the government do too. A ministerial oversight group was made fully aware of the risks on a visit to eight different ports, but there has been absolutely no follow-up. Maria, Elizabeth and I even requested a meeting to discuss our findings with the home secretary. We had no response. We were told that “fluidity” at the border was the ultimate priority. The lives of victims of human trafficking should be uppermost in the government’s mind.

Frank Field MP
Independent, Birkenhead