Recent spate of false claims was last resort by group of "desperate people trying to escape a life of misery"
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A growing number of pregnant Albanian women who pay criminal gangs to smuggle them into Britain are falsely claiming to be sex trafficking victims to gain asylum, an immigration expert said on Monday.
Anthony Steen, the UK's former special envoy on human trafficking, said while the number of claims from Albanian women who claim to have been sex trafficked had reached a record high, government investigations found most cases were fabricated.
"Many of the women are fleeing Muslim communities in Albania, where becoming pregnant out of wedlock can result in honour killings," Steen told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"They are brought into Britain by traffickers, sophisticated criminals who target the country as a soft-touch for migrants and instruct these women to come up with a cover story of how they were forced into prostitution."
Mike Emberson, director of the Medaille Trust, a charity which runs shelters for trafficking victims in Britain, said the recent spate of false claims was a last resort by a group of "desperate people trying to escape a life of misery".
Women who claim to have been sex trafficked are given accommodation in government funded safe-houses while the interior ministry, or Home Office, investigates their claims.
As of March this year, the number of Albanians applying for asylum rose by 49 percent to 1,450 applications, up from 972 in the previous year, according to Home Office statistics.
Reports of false claims should not detract from the fact a significant number of women are trafficked and sexually exploited, Emberson told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"If you deal with nine bogus claims, you can't help but be suspicious of the tenth, hence there is the growing danger of a culture of disbelief for genuine victims," he said.
The trend of false claims was noticed by a 23-year-old Albanian woman, a genuine trafficking victim who had been smuggled into Britain, and gang-raped on a daily basis, before escaping her captors, Steen said.
She became an interpreter, working with Albanian asylum seekers in shelters, and noticed that the women's stories of being forced into prostitution were so similar they seemed rehearsed.
A Home Office spokesman said frontline staff were trained to spot the signs and identify potential victims of trafficking.
"Those referred on for support are subject to careful assessment of their individual circumstances and needs." (Reporting by Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Ros Russell)
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