The UK National Crime Agency estimates 3,309 potential victims of human trafficking came into contact with the State or an NGO in 2014. The latest government statistics derived from the UK National Referral Mechanism in 2014 reveal 2,340 potential victims of trafficking from 96 countries of origin, of whom 61 percent were female and 29 percent were children. Of those identified through the NRM, the majority were adults classified as victims of sexual exploitation followed by adults exploited in the domestic service sector and other types of labour exploitation. The largest proportion of victims was from Albania, followed by Nigeria, Vietnam, Romania and Slovakia.
Elvira sought employment through an agency when her husband fell sick. She was given a job as a domestic worker in Qatar, however was forced to work 7 days a week for less than the agreed pay. After a year, the family flew Elvira to London to work for one of their sisters. There she was subjected to gruelling hours with no pay, poor nutrition and subjected to daily verbal abuse. Elvira was able to get help when a friend referred her a federation for Filipino workers and she escaped to a nearby church.
When my husband became very sick and couldn’t work, I used an employment agency to find me work abroad. I was sent to Qatar, but the family were cheating me, paying me less than agreed in my contract and refusing to give me a day off. I called the agency in the Philippines for help, but they never answered. I had to send money back home to pay for food, school fees and medicine. I fought with my employer about my salary, but he would say: “Your contract is just a piece of paper.”
A year passed. Finally, they said they’d let me go home if I went to work for one of their sisters, who lived in London. My employer flew with me, and when we reached Heathrow, the immigration officer just asked my employer what I’d be doing and let us through. The sister lived in a flat near Harrods. I had to work all the time, without a day off, and I slept on the floor by her bed. She’d shout at me, saying I was stupid or calling me a “dog” in Arabic. I was rarely allowed outside the house, and only with her. I was given just a piece of bread and cup of tea for the whole day. I became emaciated. I felt like a slave, like I was in prison. I wanted to run away, but they had my passport.
I had my phone, so I was able to get on Facebook, and a friend referred me to a federation of Filipino workers in London. One morning, after my employer went for a nap, I grabbed my phone, found the keys to the door and ran. I hid inside a nearby church and phoned the federation. I hope to get justice and go home soon.
Interview by Hazel Thompson for the Guardian