by NADEEM BADSHAH and RITHIKA SIDDHARTHA
CAMPAIGNERS have called for more support for slavery victims after it emerged that people of Indian and Pakistani origin were among the most common nationalities being exploited in the UK.
A report by the charity Unseen found there were 95 potential victims of “modern slavery” from India in 2017, which was the sixth most common nationality.
There were 55 Pakistan-origin and 30 Bangladesh origin calls to Unseen’s Modern Slavery helpline in its first full year since it was launched.
Modern slavery involves passport confiscation, little or no pay, debt bondage, isolation, monitoring and physical abuse. Other forms of abuse include employment contract concerns and being overworked by employers.
There were 12 Pakistani victims being mistreated as domestic workers in Britain last year, the third highest nationality, 11 from India as well as three from Bangladesh.
Concerns have also been raised about low-skilled migrants risking falling into slavery in post-Brexit Britain, where a shortage of migrant workers – most of them from Europe – could likely tempt abusive bosses into a race to the bottom.
Madeleine Sumption, of the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, said binding workers to fixed employers in sectors such as cleaning and catering may encourage abuse by unscrupulous businesses.
Unseen’s current campaign Be Seen Be Heard aims to raise awareness by promoting the helpline number, 08000 121 700, in businesses such as logistics and clothing warehouses.
Campaigners said fear among victims of angering their abusers and relatives means many suffer in silence, and the true figure of people affected is higher.
Unseen’s CEO Andrew Wallis OBE told Eastern Eye: “In 2017, the helpline indicated 11 Indian potential victims of domestic servitude, the fourth most prevalent nationality of this type of modern slavery.
“Domestic servitude often takes place behind closed doors in a private residence, so it may be that members of the public, or the police, do not see this crime taking place and are unable to report it.
“Potential victims from India we have come into contact with through the helpline cite family and community relationships or cultural expectations as key factors in their exploitation.”
He added: “Some may not be aware that their situation is exploitative, they may be being exploited through threats or debt bondage and are scared of seeking help. They may also not know who to turn to for help.
“We see potential victims indicated from many diaspora communities in the UK, and the Indian community is no exception.”
Saima Raza, a manager at Croydon Community Against Trafficking, echoed Wallis’s sentiments. She said: “Modern slavery is an intricate crime, it may involve multiple forms of slavery and exploitation, with victims completely unaware that they have been trafficked or enslaved even.
“Often, they may have consented to certain elements of their exploitation, hence feel they cannot be victims. There are others who accept it as their way of life now.”
Raza added that recently there has been a “proliferation in pop-up brothels whereby unoccupied residences are used for a short period of time before the victim and perpetrator move on”.
According to her: “Domestic slavery may be virtually unnoticeable, whereby predominantly children, although adults too, can be coerced and brought to the UK for the purposes of domestic servitude. They may be required to undertake cooking, cleaning and babysitting chores without pay and access to medical or educational help.
“There have also been cases of organ trafficking, people are trafficked for the purposes of having their organs removed and sold on the black market.”
She told Eastern Eye that Pakistan and India have some of the busiest corridors of trafficking in the world, for both domestic and external trafficking.
Raza added that people with irregular migration status are especially at risk of multiple trafficking and higher risk of being re-trafficked post-experience.
“The word ‘vulnerable’ is key here; traffickers seek out people and exploit their vulnerability be that economic, social or personal circumstances such as mental illness, homelessness or less then cordial home dynamics. They make potential victims believe they can help them to overcome their particular situation or predicament.
“Traffickers and slavers can even go so far as to assure parents and guardians that their intent is purely benevolent.
“Certainly, in my work with victims from the south Asian sub-continent, where societies have rather patriarchal structures, it would not be uncommon for an older male, for example, to traffick a young girl for the purpose of slavery by gaining the trust of her family and taking the time to assure them she would be safe and cared for.”
This week, the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG), a group of charities, said Britain was “failing to protect” thousands of children from being trafficked and enslaved, and criticised the government for lacking a clear strategy to stop girls being sexually abused and gangs using young people as drug mules.
The government’s approach to tackling child trafficking is fragmented and young victims lack specialist are at a time when a record number of child slaves are being uncovered, the activists claimed.
In Britain, 2,118 children suspected to have been trafficked – mostly trapped in sexual exploitation, domestic servitude or forced labour – were referred to the government last year, up 66 per cent on 2016 and the highest annual number on record.
A Home Office spokesman said the government already had a clear plan to prevent human trafficking, especially that of children.
Last week, the UK government announced a £2 million scheme to help authorities protect vulnerable children from traffickers and gangs who rape them and force them to move drugs from cities to rural areas.
Unseen’s Wallis said: “We recommend the government, police forces, local authorities, businesses and other NGOs continue to collaborate and work in partnership to raise awareness of modern slavery and to provide more support to victims and survivors
of this crime.”
In the first half of 2018, there were 2,185 calls made to the helpline, with 4,124 potential victims of modern slavery identified. This marked a 64 per cent increase in calls and 161 per cent increase in potential victims indicated from the first six months of 2017.
Between January and March 2018, the charity supported a total of 31 people from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
In 2016, Maoist cult leader Aravindan Balakrishnan was jailed for 23 years for imprisoning his daughter and repeated sex attacks on two followers in London. The Indian-born communist ran the Workers Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought from 1976 to 2013 and was sentenced for a number of offences including child cruelty, rape and sexual assault.
His daughter Katy Morgan-Davies waived her legal right to anonymity and told how her dad was “a narcissist and a psychopath” whose actions were “horrible, so dehumanising and degrading”.
The government unveiled the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which introduced tougher laws against offenders.
Safraz Ahmed, a mechanic from London, was the first Briton to be convicted under the new laws in 2016 after subjecting his wife Sumara Iram to “violence, intimidation, aggression and misery” after she came to the UK from Pakistan for an arranged marriage.
Zofia Duszynska, immigration and public law director for Duncan Lewis solicitors, has helped south Asian victims. She told Eastern Eye: “At the root of all trafficking and slavery situations is the exploitation of an unequal relationship and the abuse of a position
“This is why we do see victims of modern slavery from India and Pakistan who have been trafficked into all the typical forms of exploitation – whether they are exploited for multiple purposes and kept in isolated environments or kept in a single location.
“Some victims we have acted for have been moved between food production, building work and laundries, or kept in one place working for a single family or organisation.”
She added: “Some victims of domestic servitude are passed between members of the same family or hired out to friends and contacts. Often it is poverty and homelessness, either in their home country or in the UK, which has been the push factor compelling individuals into exploitative situations.
“Sometimes, it is the work of criminal organisations recruiting for cultural or sports trips, such as dance troupes, with the intention of diverting the individuals into sexual or labour exploitation.”
Research in May found that more than 3,500 reports of forced marriage were made to police over a three-year period as charities warned there were thousands more victims living in conditions of modern slavery.
Legal experts said modern slavery laws could lead to an increase in convictions. The national police lead for honour crime, commander Ivan Balhatchet, said: “It is unfortunate to hear repeated stories of newly-married women, often in forced marriages, complaining of a form of modern slavery.
“Undoubtedly, there needs to be much more awareness to detect and prevent these abuses.”
Hailed as a global leader in the anti-slavery drive, Britain last month said it would review its landmark 2015 law amid criticism that it is not being used fully to jail traffickers, help victims, or drive companies to spot and stop forced labour.
Britain is home to at least 136,000 modern-day slaves, says the Australian human rights group Walk Free Foundation – a figure about 10 times higher than a 2013 government estimate.