by NADEEM BADSHAH SLAVERY victims from south Asia are being recruited in places of worship by relatives in the UK who use “threats and blackmail” to control them, a report found. Campaigners have called for more funding and awareness to tackle the issue after the Unseen charity revealed that its helpline received over 7,400 calls and messages last year, a 68 per cent increase on 2017. Unseen made over 2,280 referrals to police and other agencies, a 58 per cent rise on 2017, with potential victims from India and Pakistan remaining in the top 10 for the most common nationalities. In 63 per cent of modern slavery cases the potential victim and abuser shared the same nationality. This figure rose to 80 per cent in cases involving people of Indian origin, with researchers warning that “the helpline has seen churches or places of worship being indicated as locations where PVs [potential victims] have been recruited. “This is more prevalent in PVs whose nationality is … Indian or Romanian.” Tabitha Ross, communications manager for Unseen, told Eastern Eye: “For millions of people who end up being trafficked and exploited, what made them vulnerable was poverty and the search for a better life. “Efforts to tackle trafficking alone without addressing economic and social empowerment will ultimately fall short. “This is true worldwide, but in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, where hundreds of millions of people live in extreme poverty, especially so. “When we come to look at south Asians trafficked to the UK and how to address this, great strides have been made in legislation and implementation in this country in the last five years, but there is still a long way to go. “It will take building on the foundations of collaboration and commitment to this issue among government, policing including Border Force, business, non-governmental organisations and beyond, not to mention wider awareness from the public of the signs of slavery and how to report, to find and free the unknown number trapped in exploitation, and to prevent further victims being abused.” The number of potential victims from Pakistan rose to 113 last year from 55 in 2017, while the figure of Indians fell from 95 to 87, the research showed. The number of potential victims from Bangladesh also decreased from 30 in 2017 to 26 last year. Unseen’s director Justine Currell said: “We often see a strong correlation between a potential victim’s nationality and that of their exploiter.” “In 2018, 80 per cent of cases involving victims indicated to be Indian nationals were reported to have been exploited by at least one potential exploiter of the same nationality,” Currell added. “Callers may report their exploiters are family members or someone known to them, thus making it more likely that the exploiter and victim have the same nationality. “The Modern Slavery Helpline seeks to establish the relationship between a potential victim and their exploiter to improve our understanding of how people are targeted and to strengthen and improve prevention activities.” The report also found the most common recruitment tactic used in labour exploitation was job adverts offering work online, in newspapers or notice boards. And people from Bangladesh and India were among the top four victims of people trapped as slaves by families or gangs and forced to carry out household chores. Unseen’s Helpline’s 2018 Annual Assessment suggested the scale of the problem in the UK is larger than the 10,000-13,000 victims previously suggested by the Home Office. Labour MP Rushanara Ali told Eastern Eye: “I am extremely concerned with these new figures that indicate the huge scale of modern slavery in the UK. It is shameful that so many innocent people are victims of this evil crime. “We need action and a proper funding commitment from the government, to support victims and punish the perpetrators. “It is a matter of urgency that we do more to support survivors and prevent them from being re-trafficked.” In April, the Home Office announced funding for projects to protect vulnerable people from trafficking as part of a £4 million cash boost. The Modern Slavery Innovation Fund awarded up to £800,000 each to initiatives around the world including The Freedom Fund to work in India and Nepal. Penny Mordaunt, former international development secretary, said: “Modern slavery is one of the most heinous crimes imaginable. It impacts on some of the most vulnerable people in the world, but also funds organised crime at home in the UK. “UK aid will support the Modern Slavery Innovation Fund to trial new ways to stop this crime. By working across government and with businesses to end trafficking, we will create a safer and more prosperous world for us all. “This is the aid budget working twice as hard – both around the world and helping here at home too.”