Labour accuses Theresa May of 'hollow' modern slavery pledges

Prime minister uses visit to Nigeria to promise new measures to tackle human trafficking

Theresa May will meet modern slavery victims in Nigeria during her whistle-stop tour of Africa
Theresa May will meet modern slavery victims in Nigeria during her whistle-stop tour of Africa

Labour has accused Theresa May of "hollow" words after she used a visit to Nigeria to promise tougher action against modern slavery.

The prime minister addressed the issue, which she called "one of the greatest human rights abuses of our time", during a visit to the city of Lagos as part of a whistle-stop three-day tour of Africa.

Ms May said the UK was a "world leader" in ending modern slavery as she prepared to meet Nigerian victims of the scourge.

Ahead of the visit, she announced new measures designed to help Nigeria strengthen its borders to clamp down on human traffickers, and a new counselling programme for 1,700 victims of slavery.

But Diane Abbott, Labour's shadow home secretary, said the government had cut funding for border staff vital to preventing modern slavery.

She said: “Theresa May’s warm words about modern slavery ring hollow.

“A strong coordinated response is needed, but on her watch the Tory government has cut budgets, Border Force staff and axed 21,000 police officers. They are the frontline in the fight against modern slavery."

She added: “Instead of supporting the victims of modern slavery the Home Office regularly detains trafficked women in centres like Yarl’s Wood, causing vulnerable women so much pain.

“In government, Labour will close down Yarl’s Wood and Brook House detention centres. We will commit the millions saved to fund services that support survivors of modern slavery trafficking and domestic violence. We will add hundreds of new border guards and ten thousand new police officers to tackle the scourge of modern slavery head-on.”

Speaking shortly before travelling to Nigeria from South Africa, the first stop on her trip, Ms May announced the UK will work with France to help Nigeria and Niger strengthen their borders in order to reduce human trafficking. It will also help set up a counselling programme to help 1,700 migrants and slavery victims returning to Nigeria from Libya.

She said: "Modern slavery is one of the greatest human rights abuses of our time and the UK is a world leader in making it an international mission to end this heinous crime.

"Today we are stepping up our partnership with Nigerian authorities to find traffickers and bring them to justice."

She added: "And because this is an international problem which needs international response, we are also launching a new project with France to strengthen border cooperation to prevent trafficking along key migration routes towards Libya and Europe.

"But as well as targeting the smugglers and traffickers that cruelly exploit people for financial gain, it’s vital that we support the victims who have suffered enormous trauma and are at high risk of being re-trafficked, and that is an important part of the support we are announcing today."

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Nigeria is the fifth most common country of origin for victims of modern slavery in Britain. Earlier this year, UK-funded border agents at Lagos airport helped secure the prosecution of Josephine Iyamu - the first British citizen to be convicted under the Modern Slavery Act. She was jailed for 14 years by a Birmingham court.

Before travelling to Lagos, Ms May met with Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigerian president, in the capital city of Abuja. They were expected to discuss trade, business links and the threat posed by Boko Haram.

Her trip will finish in Kenya on Thursday.

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