Migrant family in Palermo, Italy

Netherlands sends human-trafficking victims back to Italy

Because of suspicions of false declarations the Dutch former State Secretary of Justice and Security adjusted the temporary residence permit for human trafficking victims in 2019. Research by Lost in Europe now shows that this adjustment is unfounded. “The claim that there are many false declarations among human trafficking victims in The Netherlands is not true”, says Hendrik van der Veen, from the Alien Police. According to legal experts the Netherlands violates with the adjustment European law.

This is a summary of the Lost in Europe article. Read the full version in English here, and in Dutch here.

This research in particular focuses on the hundreds of Nigerian migrants who flee their country, arriving mostly in Italy first when entering Europe, after which they move on to other countries, like the Netherlands in this case, where they will start their asylum procedure. During this journey, unfortunately many migrants become a victim of human trafficking and/or exploitation, like forced labour or prostitution to pay back debts. Among them are minors and pregnant women.

After arriving in a safe country in Europe, they should be able to address and report how they have become a victim of human trafficking, after which a procedure starts of investigation during which they receive a temporary permit. However, Lost in Europe found out that a lot of times, this does not happen correctly. And much of it has to do with the Dublin claim system.

Dublin claimants and Non-Dublin claimants
Dublin claimants are asylum seekers who are registered in a European country of arrival, but started their procedure in a second European country. The new measure separates non-Dublin claimants from Dublin claimants. Non-Dublin claimants are still granted a temporary residence status of three months in the Netherlands, for them to consider reporting to the police when they are victims of human trafficking and exploitation. If they do so, they are granted the B8/3 scheme, which is valid as long as the investigation and prosecution is in progress.

But for Dublin claimants, the rules have changed. They can still file a report, but the police and Prosecutor’s Office have to decide on whether there is a case in the Netherlands. When there is no case in the Netherlands they are ordered to return to the country of first arrival in Europe. In many cases for Nigerians, this is Italy. “Much of the exploitation in Europe has taken place in Italy, which means that if the victim has been registered there, he can be sent back to the member state where he was exploited”, says asylum lawyer Judith Pieters.

Focus on the migrant’s story
The study shows that victims of human trafficking who return to Italy because of the Dublin claim are not put in touch with the Italian Network Against Human Trafficking at the airports. “No specific mechanism is in place to ensure the protection of the people”, states the report.

According to Van der Veen, the focus in the reports should focus more on the story of the victim of human trafficking rather than on the link between the report and residence. “Even if an investigation cannot take place, there sure are elements in their story that make it verifiable. Especially with a report if you only have to check whether it has detection indicators. That approach is not suitable for determining whether or not the offence has taken place. It would be good to adopt the principle that these stories are true unless the contrary can be demonstrated. After all, that is what we do with all other criminal offenses”, Van der Veen explains.

While the communication between the Dutch and Italian police seems to go well when there are concrete detection indicators, things go wrong when a victim of human trafficking has to return to Italy because those indicators are missing. The Italian Ministry of Interior does not keep track of how many returned Dublin claimants have reported in the Netherlands on being victims of human trafficking. Other Italian authorities also do not have the number of trafficking victims with Dublin claims ready. Even the Numero Verde Antitratta, the Italian helpline against human trafficking, could not share this information. “We do not keep track of this information because for us it’s irrelevant. This is a matter for the international protection system, not ours”, explains Gianfraco Della Valle.

Photo by Kate Stanworth, Lost in Europe

Crossborder cooperation in the EU
Because of the lack of communication between authorities, NGOs jump into this gap to share bilateral information. Since 2019 Numero Verde Antitratta reports being contacted on two occasions by Dutch organizations to announce the arrival of victims of trafficking in Italy.

One of the two cases involves a Nigerian family. Giuseppina di Bari, coordinator of a local anti-trafficking service: “A man and a pregnant woman with their child arrive in Venice Airport in May 2021. Upon their arrival in Italy, the woman and the child were given a temporary shelter, but the man wasn’t. Therefore they contacted the Dutch organization Recht in Zicht from Amsterdam which provides legal advice to human trafficking victims. Recht in Zicht then called Numero Verde Antitratta, which signaled their presence to us.” According to Di Bari, the woman had arrived in Italy in 2016 but was shortly after forced to perform sex work. In September 2020 she arrived in the Netherlands where she filed a report on being a victim of human trafficking, but because of the adjustment in the B8/3 arrangement she was forced to return to Italy.

Di Bari notices that there was no formal communication. “If it weren’t for the initiative of the family and Recht in Zicht, we wouldn’t have noticed the presence of these victims of trafficking”. Eventually, the family got shelter in Italy, however, after just a few weeks, the family already disappeared.

Court cases in Italy
What happens to victims of human trafficking when they are forced to return to the country they were exploited? A number of asylum lawyers have argued in court cases that Italy cannot provide adequate reception for Dublin claimants. So far, these court cases are without success. Asylum lawyer Marion Pals has represented many Nigerian clients with a Dublin claim in Italy. “The situation is shocking. It is not fair. Not only for trafficking victims, but for all Dublin claimants. I’ve been litigating in the Dutch courts for six years now. But judges don’t see the concerns.”

Lawyer Judith Pieters agrees with Pals. “The reality for these asylum seekers who have been trafficked is totally different. Most of the exploitation has taken place in Italy. These victims are in their full right to not return to a country where they have been exploited. And where nobody protects that person. This problem has been intensified since the Netherlands has changed the B8/3 arrangement in 2019.”

Lisa Elsenburg of Here to Support tells about a young Nigerian girl. “She was pregnant and had fled from Italy because she was forced to work there as a sex worker. She had pictures of herself of her legs in plaster, her face swollen and blue and her front tooth knocked out. The traffickers had done this because she refused to do what they asked. Here in the Netherlands she was told she had to return to Italy, where all of this happened. And that she had to file the report there. Running into her human traffickers in Italy was her worst nightmare. She did not want to return. She now lives undocumented in the Netherlands.”

This is a summary of the Lost in Europe article. Read the full version in English here, and in Dutch here.

Photo in header by Kate Stanworth, Lost in Europe.