The Home Office is to rewrite guidance on handling asylum claims for women trafficked into the UK from Nigeria after it emerged the advice claimed victims could return to the African country “wealthy from prostitution” and “held in high regard”.
The comments were found in an official policy and information note on the trafficking of women from Nigeria, which is used by Home Office decision-makers dealing with protection and human rights claims.
Human rights lawyers, charities and MPs expressed outrage over the wording of the guidance, which had been updated to include a paragraph on the prospects of trafficked women if they returned to Nigeria, citing EU and Australian reports that made similar observations.
The paragraph read: “Trafficked women who return from Europe, wealthy from prostitution, enjoy high social-economic status and in general are not subject to negative social attitudes on return. They are often held in high regard because they have improved income prospects.”
The Home Office has defended the inclusion of the paragraph but said it would review the text in light of the concerns.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “This section of the assessment for actual or potential victims of trafficking from Nigeria is based on and accurately reflects the findings of two credible sources – the European Asylum Support Office and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
“As the assessment also makes clear, each case must be considered on the facts in the context of the available country information and relevant case law. Where a female victim of trafficking is vulnerable to serious harm she will usually be granted protection.
“In light of these concerns, we will however review the text of the assessment to avoid it being misinterpreted by decision-makers.”
Dr Charlotte Proudman, a human rights barrister who represents women and girls in cases of gender-based violence, particularly female genital mutilation, led criticism of the guidance, saying the suggestion that trafficked women were wealthy and enjoyed a high socioeconomic status was “fundamentally wrong”.
Labour MPs including Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, and David Lammy both tweeted their concerns, with Lammy writing: “There are no bounds to the Home Office’s abhorrence. Only a department woefully unfit for purpose could imply that women should be grateful for their own rape, slavery and trafficking. To use this to disqualify their asylum claim is beyond belief.”
Kate Osamor, a Labour MP and chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Nigeria, which has examined the impact of trafficking, said that among all the stories of trafficking the group heard none had a “happy ending”.
“It shows the Home Office doesn’t trust people who go through these experiences. You’d expect authorities to take them in, listen and unpack their experience and not treat trafficking like it’s a job.”