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John Roffey's blog

British men forced into 'modern slavery' abroad

@ 5:32 am, Thu 2nd Feb 2012

From the BBC - an indication of how bad things are getting.

Criminal elements of the British and Irish travelling community have been transporting vulnerable British men abroad to work as virtual slaves.

An investigation by the BBC Ten O'Clock News and Radio 5 Live Breakfast has uncovered at least 32 victims.

The European Commission describes it as modern slavery and says this is the tip of the iceberg.

There have been confirmed cases in six European countries, including Sweden, Norway and Belgium.

The gangs pick vulnerable men off the streets in the UK, who are often homeless and many have drink or drugs problems.

They are promised well-paid work, but are then transported abroad where they are forced into long, hard days tarmacking or paving driveways for little or no money.

One man the BBC spoke to had arrived in the Swedish port of Malmo with two other Britons who all had been homeless when they were picked up. He has asked not to be named, because he fears for his safety.

The men worked 14-hour days for little or no pay and lived in appalling, cramped conditions. They were too frightened to escape, until the Swedish police offered them help. He says there was a culture of violence.

"I've seen people threatened with pickaxes. I've seen people kicked, punched. I've nearly been pushed off a moving vehicle. It's very tense. You're waiting for the next thing to happen, " he says.

'Targeting most vulnerable'

The European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmstrom, says she fears this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Start Quote

That physically fit British men can be threatened or coerced into working without pay and living in fear for their safety reflects the brutal reality of modern slavery”

Aidan McQuadeAnti-Slavery International

"It's a horrible crime and it's modern slavery," she says.

"They are using very vulnerable people and especially in hard economic times, people have lost work, nowhere to live, thrown out from families. We must act much stronger than we have done. It's only recently we have been aware of the amount of the problem."

The project manager of human trafficking at the European law enforcement agency, Europol, believes there have been dozens of British victims. David Ellero says traveller gangs have been doing this for a long time.

"[They are] targeting the most vulnerable in society and forcing them to work, but the cases are not categorised as trafficking. The work is normally carried out in northern Europe, where they work in rural areas and focus on elderly victims.

"These people are intimidated into paying for substantial work, so it is a double crime, exploitation of the victims and fraud of the person paying."

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