Surge in Scottish exploitation cases as MPs raise fears over European co-operation

Senior MPs have expressed concerns over the UK’s ability to work with European officials to combat people trafficking after Brexit.

Senior MPs have expressed concerns over the UKs ability to work with European officials to combat people trafficking after Brexit. Picture: PA

In the wake of the discovery of 39 migrants dead in a refrigerated trailer in Essex, Labour’s Yvette Cooper and exiled Conservative Dominic Grieve have voiced fears over Britain’s ability to work with European officials to combat illegal immigration.

They voiced their fears amid claims of a major spike in Vietnamese trafficking victims coming to Scotland in recent weeks.

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Charities including Migrant Help and the Scottish Guardianship Service are reportedly experiencing a surge in cases, particularly in the past week, amid concerns some of the trafficking victims found dead may have destined for Scotland.

Kirsty Thomson, a partner at legal firm Just Right Scotland, told a national newspaper: “The numbers of referrals of Vietnamese nationals presumed to be victims of human trafficking has sharply risen in recent weeks.

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“The numbers of referrals to us and our NGO partners have hit an all-time high with numbers increasing again last week.” Ms Thomson added: “It’s so controlled, so organised. It’s a mafia and the mafia are in our country.

“It is conceivable that when we find out more, the individuals in that lorry could have been en route to Scotland, could have been on their way to a nail bar you use in your local town.”

Rise in human trafficking

The Scottish Government said earlier this month that 188 victims of human trafficking and exploited had been identified north of the Border in the first six months of this year – a 74 per cent rise on the same period last year.

Authorities investigating the case include the European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC) – part of the EU’s law enforcement agency Europol.

However, the UK’s ability to work with Europol and its agencies after 2020 – when the post-Brexit transition period with the EU is due to end – is now in doubt, even if a Brexit deal is struck.

Ms Cooper, Labour’s chairwoman of the home affairs select committee, said she was seriously concerned the Government had no plan as to how to ensure continued UK involvement with the EU’s anti-smuggling agencies.

The government’s plans mean we could lose membership of Europol at the end of next year if a new security partnership isn’t agreed in time,” Ms Cooper said.

“The government itself has said this would mean a security downgrade and there would be a substantial capability gap due to our loss of access to data-sharing systems and ability to lead operations.”

Mr Grieve said last week’s tragedy “highlights the need for international co-operation”.