GOVERNMENT plans to opt out of European rules that would grant temporary residence permits to victims of human trafficking will backfire, London MEP Jean Lambert has warned.
In a letter to Immigration Minister Beverley Hughes urging her to reconsider the Government's position, Green MEP Mrs Lambert says opting out risks violating the human rights of victims and could jeopardise international efforts to stamp out the illegal people-smuggling rings.
"In my view there is no sound justification for the UK to opt out of an initiative which is an important step in the fight against trafficking in human beings," Mrs Lambert wrote.
The directive, modeled on a Belgian law which has been in force for ten years, was proposed by the European Commission earlier this year and will be debated by the European Parliament's Justice and Home Affairs Committee in mid-December before a final decision is taken early in 2003.
It would require member states to grant short-term residence permits to victims of human trafficking in order to assist police and immigration officials' criminal investigations into the traffickers.
But the UK Government has already said it will opt out of the directive, claiming cases are best dealt with on a case-by-case basis, that it would contradict the common law principle that any incentives to giving evidence compromises that evidence, and that the Exceptional Leave to Remain procedure already allows trafficking victims to participate in legal proceedings arising from their entry.
Mrs Lambert said: "The government's attitude belies a complete lack of understanding of what this directive is actually saying. That's a great pity, as trafficking in human beings is a serious and growing human rights problem, one which is not recognised in UK law.
"These proposals are about two things: fighting organised crime and stamping out the illegal smuggling of people across our borders, and protecting the human rights of victims.
"The Government insists on treating it as an immigration issue and reacting with its usual 'Fortress Britain' approach. This will contribute nothing to the fight against people trafficking and I hope the minister will heed my call to reconsider."
For more information please contact Ben Duncan on 020 7407 6280 or 0776 997 0691