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Last Updated:  Monday, 10 March, 2003, 14:49 GMT
Prostitutes to get safe houses
Some foreign prostitutes are deported as illegal immigrants
Women who have been brought to the UK and forced to work as prostitutes could find sanctuary as part of a new government initiative.

The Home Office is to provide safe houses for women who have escaped or been rescued from brothels.

Chief superintendent Simon Humphrey, of the Metropolitan Police's clubs and vice unit, says there has been a huge increase in the number of brothels operating out of massage parlours, saunas and private houses around London.

Eighty per cent of the women working in such premises were found to be from other countries, mostly from Eastern Europe.

There is also growing evidence that a significant proportion have been brought in by criminal gangs and forced into prostitution.

Pilot scheme

This year the clubs and vice unit has rescued two teenage children from brothels.

Adult victims are usually deported as illegal immigrants.

It is also important that we try to ensure that the same traffickers who brought them in are not going to bring other people in too
Beverley Hughes
Home Office minister
But the Home Office initiative will give women temporary sanctuary in the UK in sheltered accommodation in return for co-operating with officers.

Home Office minister Beverley Hughes told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There is a new pilot scheme, with housing, which will offer support, counselling and assistance to women and to women particularly who are willing to co-operate with police in order to track down the traffickers.

"It is important that we support the women.

"But it is also important that we try to ensure that the same traffickers who brought them in are not going to bring other people in too."

The minister rejected campaigners' calls for the women to be given permanent residence in the UK.

Bolder approach

She said: "You have to have a situation where you are not allowing the traffickers themselves when touting their trade out in other countries to be able to say 'come in, say you've been a sex slave and you will get asylum in Britain'."

The women will be housed with Eaves Housing, a project working with vulnerable and excluded women in London, which has already started trialling the principles behind the new initiative.

It will be a huge step forward and hopefully will help traffickers be brought to court
Carron Somerset, Ecpat

Director Denise Marshall said the project would let more women know there were services available to them.

She said some women who had been smuggled into the country wanted to go home, others were too scared of reprisals and some would agree to talk to the police.

"It all depends on their circumstances," she said.

Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said it was vital that the women and children were treated as victims and not as criminals.

"When people are rescued, the priority should be to give them shelter, counselling, health care and legal advice," he said.

"If people claiming sanctuary from traffickers are subsequently deported from the UK, the government must be confident that they will not face reprisals back in their country of origin."

Mr Hughes said the government must be far bolder in its approach to prostitution.

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