There are an estimated 136,000 people living on conditions of modern slavery in the United Kingdom (Global Slavery Index 2018). According to the 2017 annual figures provided by the National Crime Agency, 5, 145 potential victims of modern slavery were referred through the National Referral Mechanism in 2017, of whom 2,454 were female, 2688 were male and 3 were transgender, with 41% of all referrals being children at the time of exploitation. People are subjected to slavery in the UK in the form of domestic servitude, labour exploitation, organ harvesting and sexual exploitation, with the largest number of potential victims originating from Albania, China, Vietnam and Nigeria. This data however does not consider the unknown numbers of victims that are not reported.
Witness B was brought to the United Kingdom by her employer to work as a domestic worker to support her family. Upon arrival, Witness B was not fed, was subjected to physical abuse and was not paid for their work. After 12 weeks she ran away, scared for her life. Though Witness B was helped by a charity organisation under the National Referral Mechanism, she was still unable to work in the UK and provide for her family. Witness B tells of her experience of the current support system in place in the UK for human trafficking survivors, believing it inadequate for trafficked domestic workers such as herself.
My employer brought me here from [country; abroad] in [year]. I ran away after 12 weeks. I came here with a private household visa. But when I came here, my salary was—there was two months when they didn’t pay me. I was not properly fed; if they had no leftover food, I had nothing to eat for the following day.
And then I was physically hit—[...]
Then I ran away, because I was so scared for my life, because they threatened me already. I was so scared to go back with them to [country; abroad], so I ran away and I tried to seek help. Then I met the [charity organisation] and from there, they started to help me. They referred me to [charity organisation] and they started to process my papers.
I received a positive reasonable grounds and I was under the national referral mechanism. But I did not have the right to work. So, as a mother— I have [number] children. I’m a single mum. [***]. I am the breadwinner of the family. Working overseas is our family’s bread and butter. I was supporting a [sibling] [***]. So all my family is really depending on me.
Being in the system is really quite hard. It is not much different from working with abusive employers. I am free to go out. I don’t need to fear that the police or immigration will chase me or deport me because I am in the NRM. But what will my life be? If I can only have the support coming from the Hestia award of £35 a week, that’s only £5 a day. How can I budget with £5 a day—for my transport, for my food, thinking of my [number] children back home and the [***] with £35 a week? If I gave you £5 and told you, “Budget it for yourself,” can you budget it for yourself?
I don’t think the NRM is really applicable for domestic workers because we are workers; we are fit to work. We came here with a private household visa and then all of a sudden, we are in the system. We seek help and at least we feel that our struggle will be finished. We are still in this situation that we really struggle a lot. It is not me; it is not helpful for domestic workers.
There is not much support, like psychologists. It’s hard. For most of us, there are no psychologists. We can’t go to a GP, even if we are registered with Doctors of the World. We go to a GP, we present the letter from Doctors of the World and they will not register us. It is not enough. They will ask for this paper and that paper. How can we get those documents to present to them?
[How are you managing at the moment?]
With the help of the [charity organisation], with Witness F. If not with this community, even if I am in the system, I might get suicidal since they started on my papers. Sometimes I was just thinking “Why did I sort out my papers? Why can I not just work?”
I am waiting for the conclusive grounds. It has been two years. I am in the system for two years without the right to work. If they give me negative decision, they will send me back home. What will happen to me? I did not have a right to work. I did not even save for my children. If they give me positive conclusive grounds, do you think within two years I could be stable? Do you think? Within two years?
I was just saying, I don’t think NRM is really for us domestic workers. We are workers; we can work. This is what I want: just for us to be allowed to work, just like any other workers.
Last time, when I spoke with the modern slavery unit in the Home Office, I asked them. According to their letters, it’s only a minimum of 45 days. I have already been in the system for more than a year. Until when will I wait? I can’t tell my children “Stop schooling first. Let’s wait for the final decision. Don’t eat first.”
Be in my situation. That is why I am always challenging everyone. Be in my shoes, so that you can feel and you can see how I struggle.
My children are [ages]. I left [country; abroad] [number] years ago.
They are studying, but it is so hard for me because I am sending the money I get from Hestia to my children - £35 a week – and I depend on the help of this community and the help of other friends. I have been in that situation for two years.
There was a time when Hestia stopped my allowance for almost a year, when they found out that I stayed with Witness F in [location]. Hestia called me up and said, “Sorry, but we need to stop your support,” and right from that moment they stopped it. I did not get anything for almost a year. It was just earlier this year that Hestia called me again to bring back my support.
They said that they were only supporting victims inside London, and by that time I was staying with Witness F in [location], because I had no place where I could stay. When they found out, right at that moment they stopped it. They only returned it when I came back to London and asked my friend in [location] if I could stay there. The only time they gave it back to me was when Witness F sorted it out with the Salvation Army.
But I cannot live just with the help of community and the help of friends, because the reason I went overseas was to work, earn and support my family, not to be a dependant of any kind or to accept any support from any country or from any friends.
If I go back to [country] I will apply for overseas work again and my experience might happen to me again. Our country is a poor country. In our country, we have age discrimination. You can only get a good job if you are newly graduated and until you are 27 or 28. If your age is 30, 40, you’d better find it in other countries, you’d better go abroad. There is no job for you. That is our situation.
[Did you say couldn’t get a GP?]
Yes, even if you are registered in Doctors of the World, yes. It is really hard to go to the GP. Doctors of the World will tell us, “Go here to this GP and register there,” but there are situations. Most of us can’t just go and register in a GP. Their GP refused them to be registered, even if they have the letter from—
For me, once a domestic worker enters the NRM, it is quite strange for me because our perpetrators, the employers who brought us here, can still go back and forth from the country. They are not banned. I see that the Government are still tolerating them although they already have the record that I worked for that employer. They are in the system, but there is no investigation.
Narrative as told to Home Affairs Committee, Oral evidence: Modern Slavery, HC 1460, 6th November 2018.