Forced labour victim at risk of losing home due to COVID-19 crisis

A man who has been trafficked and exploited for forced labour for eight years has received life-changing interventions from Hope for Justice during the Coronavirus lockdown.

Slovakian-born Jakub* had to stop his job in West Yorkshire when his employer was forced to close the business due to the pandemic.

The loss of an income meant he was unable to buy food or pay his rent.

Jakub, who is in his early 50s, was aware of Hope for Justice’s work, having previously been handed leaflets about the charity by an outreach worker. Due to his limited English, Jakub asked a friend to contact Hope for Justice on his behalf.

Since April, he has received ongoing support from the organisation’s West Yorkshire Hub, which has included arranging for food parcels to be delivered to him and providing mental health support with the assistance of an interpreter.

One of the anti-slavery charity’s Community Engagement Specialists said: “Thankfully, Jakub had heard about Hope for Justice and decided to reach out to us through a friend. Jakub had the courage to share his story with Hope for Justice, and we have been able to advise and assist him throughout the whole process, helping him to access much-needed support.”

In his late 30s, Jakub was exploited for two years while working in a factory, half of his wages being taken and pocketed by a trafficker.

He left employment at the warehouse, instead moving to live with his mother and taking on part-time work before later securing a job at another factory.

“We were very poor,” he said, “My mother was very sick and when she died, I went through an incredibly difficult time in life. I had no other family and no one else to turn to.”

In 2009, Jakub was made redundant when the firm he was working for went into administration. Life spiralled out of control, and Jakub eventually ended up street homeless. It was while sleeping rough that Jakub was approached by a man who promised him work in the UK, for good pay, with an arrangement for accommodation and food to be provided in exchange for 50 per cent of his wage.

But on his arrival to the UK, the conditions were very different to what had been agreed. Jakub’s passport was taken from him and he was transported to West Yorkshire where he was forced to live in a crowded property. He had no bed, was only given food twice a week and was initially put to work as a labourer before being moved to a factory, his entire earnings in both roles being given to his trafficker, who beat him on a regular basis and controlled his movements.

This mistreatment continued for six years until he was “disposed of”, told to leave and made homeless again.

Hope for Justice’s Community Engagement Specialist said: “Jakub was promised a better life and a future in the UK but instead he was forced to work, was treated unfairly in so many ways and worst of all, his freedom was taken away from him. No person should experience this at any point in their lives.”

In 2016, Jakub was befriended by a man who he said “helped him a lot,” supporting him to find regular cash-in-hand work and accommodation.

He said: “I was in the most stable job I have had for 20 years when COVID-19 hit and I had to stop working because the business closed its doors. I had no money left to be able to secure my daily living, to buy food and essentials, and I was in danger of losing my accommodation because I could not afford to pay my rent anymore.”

Hope for Justice secured food parcels for Jakub from a charity and the local authority, and referred him into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the UK’s formal process for identifying potential victims of modern slavery.

He has received a positive reasonable grounds decision, which means he is entitled to a minimum of 45 days’ recovery period, or until a conclusive grounds decision is made. The charity is continuing to work on his behalf to secure the support that he is entitled to while awaiting a decision.

Hope for Justice’s Community Engagement Specialist said: “We are so glad that Jakub is now able to move forward, beyond his difficult past. The team is continuing to support Jakub so that he can build the life that he always wanted, and that he truly deserves.”

*Name and image changed to protect identity of victim