Centre opens in Britain to combat forced illegal immigration

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Europe's first dedicated centre for victims of people-trafficking is opened last week in Sheffield, England. The Human Trafficking Centre will aim to provide specialist care for the victims - mostly women brought from abroad and forced into prostitution.

The Sheffield centre has been set up to deal with all forms of human trafficking. However, its first and primary focus will be on women being forced into prostitution, a huge percentage of whom are being imported from Eastern Europe and Russia.

South Yorkshire Police, which runs the facility, said it would help to build their knowledge and understanding of trafficking in the UK. Specially-trained police, lawyers and immigration officials will work at the facility.

Work will continue on the UK's first national campaign - Operation Pentameter - to target human trafficking in the sex industry. However, the Sheffield centre will also deal with trafficking involving labour exploitation, trafficking of children and trafficking for domestic service.

Deputy Chief Constable Graham Maxwell called it a "heinous crime" and said the facility would take a "victim-centred approach".

"So that when a person is discovered who has been trafficked, that first point of contact is a positive one and we have the right support mechanisms in place to look after their welfare."

He said many of the victims had been forced into the sex industry and had effectively been raped up to 30 times a day - and some did not even know which country they were in. Experts at the Sheffield centre will also offer training to police forces across the country.

The Poppy Project, which provides support and accommodation to women who have been trafficked for the purposes of prostitution, welcomed the centre. A spokeswoman said: "The centre has the potential to subvert traffickers using the UK as a destination country.

Police leading the UK Human Trafficking Centre say it is the first of its kind in Europe and aims to make the country a hostile place for traffickers.

Detective Ch. Supt. Nick Kinsella said: "This is a success story for the region.

"Police in this area of the country and the Metropolitan Police are at the forefront of this work and have been for some time."

The centre, which officially opened on 03 October, is made up of specialist staff from the police, Crown Prosecution Service, Serious Organised Crime Agency and immigration services.

The multi-agency unit was set up to continue the work of Operation Pentameter, the UK's first national campaign to target sex trafficking, which was also run from Sheffield.

Mr. Kinsella, who is heading the centre, said: "Our knowledge of trafficking and the extent of the market is not as good as we would like it to be.

"Pentameter showed there was a problem; the question then became how to deal with it."

During the Pentameter campaign, victims of sex trafficking were found in brothels, saunas and massage parlours across the country, notably in south Wales, south-east and north-west England and across London.

Mr. Kinsella said the operation was about "turning the stone" to see what level of sex trafficking was taking place in the UK. "It showed the UK had a problem with the trafficking of human beings for sexual exploitation.

Sheffield was the natural choice of location for the centre, due to the expertise of South Yorkshire Police, who secured the first conviction for trafficking under new legislation.

Mr. Kinsella said: "The ultimate aim I have set for the centre is for it to become a real centre of excellence for dealing with issues surrounding human trafficking.

"We have set ourselves very demanding work programme, but it is a very important subject and it is only right that we do everything in our power to achieve these targets."

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