Numerous headlines over the past few years have pointed to a new low for human trafficking. We’ve heard about many distressing incidents of smuggling people in deadly conditions, forced labour of both adults and children, and these regular news updates has done nothing to convince us that modern day slavery is diminishing. Britain played a prominent role in the slave trade centuries ago, and it’s clear that, albeit more hidden, the industry still thrives on home soil.
We are always sickened to hear new stories about people being smuggled from country to country, many times unwillingly, usually causing some sort of suffering to the victims. Illegally transporting via lorries and boats is becoming a worrying trend that is hard to crack down on given the sheer number of vehicles travelling all over the world by land, air and sea each day.
Aware of the fact that all vehicles cannot be checked, traffickers take the risk and capitalise on the desperation of vulnerable people who feel threatened in their own country and will do anything for the promise of a better life. The UK, with its relatively relaxed border control and free social services, some say, is “aiding and abetting the criminals” in being an attractive destination for refugees. Criminal gangs are taking advantage of this current migration crisis in Europe by offering transport throughout the continent and then forcing many of these people into sex work and other types of slavery. It’s been found that smugglers are charging migrants anywhere up to £13,500 to get to the UK, probably promising them a home and a job. Former head of the UK Border Force says "We really need to get a message out to migrants that if they want to come to this country there are safe and legal routes that they need to explore, [for example] visas and permits."
Most worrying is that the cattle-like transportation is just one part of the dire treatment of trafficking victims, which we are becoming progressively more aware of due to the vast amount of migrant boat tragedies in the past few months. Just a few weeks ago, there were nine migrant shipwrecks in the space of six days – and it’s estimated that almost 1000 people died. Boat and lorry transportation is becoming increasingly more dangerous as traffickers are attempting to transport as many people as possible without considering their safety. It’s heart-breaking that people are dying or being seriously injured in the hopes of a better life.
We can well imagine the awful circumstances these people were and many migrants still are destined for in the UK. Our special report on the 2016 slave trade in Britain describes the excessively long hours, lack of fair pay, abuse, threats and torrid working and living conditions that thousands of undocumented migrant workers (some of whom are children) are forced to put up with by gang-masters.
The idea of slavery happening in our cities, towns and villages is a hard truth to accept. The problem had escalated to such a degree that the government implemented the Modern Slavery Act last year, which has seen the maximum jail sentence for traffickers increase to life from 14 years, and allows authorities to force traffickers to pay compensation to their victims. It also brings in measures to protect people feared at risk of being enslaved. The UK is also cracking down on people smugglers passing through our borders unnoticed, for instance, the Royal Navy will potentially be patrolling the English Channel for migrant boats.
Tougher sanctions, compensation for victims and stronger borders - we can only hope that this deters existing and potential traffickers.
For our part, we want to help bring awareness to an issue that deserves our urgent attention and efforts to abolish slavery once and for all.