Belfast Telegraph

Nigerian woman wins High Court challenge to being denied human trafficking victim status in Northern Ireland

A Nigerian woman who fled to Northern Ireland amid claims of having been forced into sexual slavery has won her High Court challenge to being denied human trafficking victim status.

The UK Border Agency failed to properly investigate her account and reached an unfair decision, a judge ruled today.

Mr Justice Treacy's verdict means the authorities must reconsider her case before any steps can be taken to remove her.

The woman, referred to as RE, arrived in Belfast in March 2011 and presented herself to Alliance Party offices and a city mission.

She claimed to have been first trafficked from Nigeria to Portugal in 2003 by a family friend known to her as "Progress" under a false pretence of finding legitimate work.

Instead, she said she was taken to a brothel and forced into prostitution.

According to her account she first escaped to Spain in 2006 and claimed asylum.

But she said she returned to Portugal because Progress had organised an assassin to target her family back in Nigeria.

Following further attempts to flee she fell back into the hands of her captors and made to work as a prostitute in Madrid, the court heard.

In 2010 a friend helped RE get to Dublin where immigration officers said they would investigate her case.

She left and crossed the border after an associate of Progress allegedly told her she had nowhere to go and nowhere to hide.

An assessment was then carried out by UK Border Agency. In August 2011 it concluded on the balance of probabilities that she had not been the victim of trafficking.

The authorities pointed out that she sought out an associate of Progress despite knowing of her allegedly brutality.

RE was informed that she did not have permission to be in the UK and was liable for removal.

She issued judicial review proceedings in a bid to have the decision quashed and compel the authorities to reconsider her victim status.

Mr Justice Treacy backed her case on failure to investigate and procedural fairness grounds.

He said: "There is no evidence in the decision letter that there has been any consideration of possible reasons for the lack of credibility as mandated by the guidance, there is just a bare assertion that the applicant's claims are considered to be incredible.

"As there is no weighing up of these considerations in the decision letter the decision is unsafe for either failing to properly investigate, or for failing to take into account relevant considerations."

Given what was at stake for RE, the judge held that a rigorous standard of fairness must apply.

Granting her application for judicial review, he added: "I agree that the applicant should have had the opportunity to know the gist of the case against her and been given the opportunity to rebut the suggestion of incredibility.

"The respondent has given no convincing reasons why this would be impossible or undesirable, and the guidance to the competent authorities clearly envisages a comprehensive evidence gathering procedure in advance of making a conclusive decision." ends   

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