A couple who were tricked into uprooting their life in Poland in exchange for a more prosperous life in the UK have been rescued from human trafficking.
Alicja* and Jakub* moved to the UK after seeing a job ad for delivery and collection agents, supposedly for charity. The couple were promised well-paid work and somewhere to live in return for distributing leaflets and collecting second-hand clothing.
A member of staff at global anti-slavery charity Hope for Justice said: “At this point in their lives, both Alicja and Jakub were unemployed with very poor prospects. They had been struggling financially and were in danger of eviction.
“They naturally saw this job as an opportunity to better themselves – a genuine means to improve their quality of life and to reduce their financial hardship.
“Buoyed by a sense of good fortune and expectancy, they travelled to the UK in the hope of rebuilding their lives.”
When Alicja and Jakub arrived in the UK, they were met by a man who transported them to a small terraced property in the suburbs. They were given their own room, which contained a bed. But the house was extremely cold and there was no hot water. The couple had no money left to buy food or provisions.
They were put to work almost immediately, and soon the threats began. They would be paid less than half the minimum wage, and their accommodation costs would be taken out first. If they did not meet targets, they would be dismissed and evicted.
One of Hope for Justice’s investigators said: “The couple were not happy with the arrangements, but they felt they had no choice; they were inherently aware of their own vulnerability and their dependency on this man. They spoke very little English and did not know where else to turn.
“The hours they worked were long and physically punishing. Jakub was also asked to carry out additional forced labour. No money ever materialised for this backbreaking work.
“The couple were forced to eat and drink frugally because they had so little income. Their living conditions were debilitating.”
Then, with no warning, Alicja and Jakub were told that their employment was being terminated and they needed to vacate the property.
“Both were utterly devastated. They felt deceived,” the investigator said. “They were forced to sleep rough in coach stations and alleyways. Each day was a struggle to survive.”
They eventually found their way to a community facility where staff had previously been trained by Hope for Justice to spot the signs of modern slavery and human trafficking. They were referred to the anti-slavery charity as potential victims.
One of the team’s community specialists obtained accounts from the couple, which consisted of numerous indicators of human trafficking for the purpose of forced labour.
Hope for Justice has since identified that the collection bags the couple were given to use as part of their exploitation had been printed with a logo indicating that they were associated with a legitimate charity.
The investigator said: “This has previously been identified as a modus operandi used by many criminal gangs to purposely elicit a sympathetic response from would-be donors. In truth, the clothing is sold to clothing exchanges for cash, which is pocketed by the criminals. So that traffickers can maximise the profit from this despicable deception, they force their victims to work long hours.”
He added: “Alicja and Jakub became victims of an elaborate and complex process utilised by organised criminal gangs. The traffickers’ cruel and exploitative methods took advantage of these vulnerable individuals, leaving them homeless and destitute, without money, frightened, and with no realistic prospect of returning to their home country.”
The couple has bravely reported their exploitation to the police, who are investigating.
Alicja and Jakub received immediate support from Hope for Justice in the form of accommodation, food provisions and legal advice.
They have since been referred into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the UK government’s process for identifying and supporting potential victims of modern slavery – and have been relocated to a safe house.
*Names and images changed to protect identity of victims
To enquire about training on how to spot the signs of human trafficking, email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact a member of the team by filling out this form.