It is feared that Europe’s current migration crisis could further increase the number of people being trafficked into the UK for sexual and labour exploitation.
Some campaigners estimate there could be up to 80,000 victims in Britain, stuck in slavery, in the shadows of society.
The number being identified is much lower. More than 3,200 potential victims were referred in the UK last year – a 40 percent rise on the previous 12 months.
‘I wanted to die’ – teenage boy sold for sex with men
“They beat us, they put us on the phone, we was crying and screaming on the phone. And they told my family, if you don’t pay for him, we will kill him. We may use him for a lot of things. We may take his kidney or things like this,” recalled “Peter,” who was sexually exploited in Greece, en route from the Middle East to the UK.
“When my family didn’t pay, they used us to (have) sex with other people. Yeah, with other people, they came had sex with us and I think they paid for that.”
“Peter” was 15 when traffickers held him and sexually exploited him. His family did not pay what the traffickers had demanded and he was forced to have sex with men.
“It was really bad. I don’t know how I describe it. It was very, very hard. I thought, I want to die, to not do that. But I’ve been forced to do it,” he told insiders
“Peter” eventually arrived in the UK in the back of a lorry and it is said that he would have faced further sexual exploitation, had he not been found by immigration officers.
Catalogue of sexual exploitation
“Peter’s” case is not unusual. An annual report from the charity The Salvation Army – which supports victims – details cases in the UK last year. It is a catalogue of exploitation in the 21st century.
Among the victims is a woman who was trafficked from Vietnam and forced to work as a prostitute. The traffickers threatened to kill her father.
In another case, a man came to the UK from Poland and is forced to work every day for just 13 euros in all. He was locked up and beaten if he tried to escape.
Student forced into labour exploitation
“I used to work for 15 hours and we just got two breaks, only for the washroom. And we’re not allowed to speak to colleagues, and we’re not allowed to speak with customers,” “Sara,” another trafficking victim told insiders
“Sara” came to the UK from Asia to study. But says she was forced to work every day in a cafe, on low wages, facing constant threats from her manager.
“She (manager) told me, if I go against her, she would inform the immigration people, I would be sent to Asia. The second fear is that she could contact my parents and she would tell them I’m doing something wrong, like against my family name,” she explained.
“I mean like having an affair with so many boys. So many wrong things, which is very totally against the Asian culture. It’s really enough to kill someone.”
“Sara” was trapped for almost two years before being spotted and rescued.
Victims trapped in debt bondage
UK charities provide support and safe houses for those who have been trafficked.
Sadia Wain, who works for Hestia told insiders that trafficking victims are terrified to seek help, often paying off a never-ending debt.
“The debt bondage being the fact that they’ve been brought over here and we paid for your ticket and, if you don’t pay, you have to pay us back. And that debt doesn’t seem to decrease,” she said.
“It seems to just increase and if they refuse to work in any way, whether it’s sexual exploitation or whether it’s domestic servitude, or whether it’s forced labour, then they’re threatened with their families back home.”
“And so, because of that, they continue to do what they are doing.”
Roll up! Slaves for sale
The Salvation Army has taken to the streets of London to boost awareness, with actors taking part in a mock slave sale.
Police say real victims can be bought and sold for up to 13-thousand euros each, in what is an organised and lucrative crime.
Migration crisis risk – ‘hidden crime’
Earlier this year, police launched a week-long operation targeting trafficking and exploitation across the UK.
More than 100 potential victims were identified and at least 25 arrests were made.
But it is a drop in the ocean and the UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC) – which coordinates law enforcement – admits exploitation could be further fuelled by Europe’s migrant crisis.
“I think the large numbers that are marching across Europe certainly cause a risk to the UK,” said Martin French, Head of the UKHTC.
“Some of those individuals are determined to get into the UK and their circumstances when they arrive may mean that their desperate in terms of finding legitimate employment or any form of employment. And so they’re likely to be vulnerable to forms of exploitation,” he continued.
“This is a hidden crime and it’s often backed up with different cultural issues which are very difficult for police to respond to. We can only respond if we see things and we get cases to investigate.”
Where do trafficking victims come from?
Trafficking victims in the UK come from all over the world, with Albania, Nigeria, Eritrea and Afghanistan among the source countries.
But countries inside the EU – such as Hungary, Lithuania, Poland and Romania – also rank highly.
In February, the owner of a bed-making business in England was jailed after using a slave workforce of Hungarian men.
They were paid as little as 13 euros a week and housed in cramped and dirty accommodation.
“Exploitation is a very major concern for the new arrivals, especially those young people, unaccompanied minors and young women,” said Nooralhaq Nasimi, an Afghan community leader in London.
“They don’t understand the system. They are a newly arrived community. They don’t know anything, they don’t know the language, they don’t know the regulations and then the criminal gangs, unfortunately, are using these opportunities for their own benefit to exploit them.”
Thousands of children ‘disappear’
Data published by the European Commission earlier this year identified the recruitment of children by traffickers as a sharply increasing trend.
This, amid concerns about the fate of thousands of unaccompanied minors, who’ve apparently disappeared over recent years, including during the current migration crisis.
Europol said in January 2016 that at least 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children had gone missing over the previous two years, after arriving in Europe.
“Unaccompanied children from far flung places do arrive in the UK. They go into the care system when they’re discovered and they disappear,” Neil Giles, Head of Intelligence for the campaign group Stop the Traffik told insiders
“It’s clear that many of them are under control of traffickers, maybe because there’s a threat against their family. It maybe for other reasons. I’ve often said that children and trafficked people have a link to their traffickers that after a while is difficult to break.”
Giles continued: “All response to crime in this country is focused on reported crime and emerging threats. We haven’t got a good picture of trafficking yet, or a good enough picture of trafficking yet in this country, and there’s more to be done to make that picture stronger.”
The British government says it is committed to tackling the problem. It has brought in legislation for identifying and supporting victims, and holding those exploiting them to account.
For those who are trafficked, the trauma is long-lasting.
“It’s affected my life really, really badly. Until now, I can’t sleep at night-time. I go to dream and I’m scared,” “Peter” said.
“And every night, when I’m sleeping, I have to make sure all the doors are closed and I have to check it a few times and I don’t trust any people.”