modern slavery

Omar's story

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A man who spent his family’s life savings on coming to the UK, found his dream of a better life shattered when his new job became a nightmare.

Omar*, a young man from West Africa, replied to an advert offering visas to the UK to work in the care sector. Large salaries and accommodation were promised in exchange for an agency fee of ten thousand pounds - a huge amount in his home country.

Omar’s family pooled their savings in the hope that the money he sent back home would make their sacrifice worth it.

When Omar arrived in the UK he was given accommodation in a disused care home, and found work looking after elderly people.

At first all seemed well, Omar worked hard and enjoyed his job. He had been told to expect to work around 40 hours a week, perhaps with some over time, and earn around £25,000 a year.

However, the hours soon started to rack up, and before he knew it, he was working seven days a week, often from 4am, to 11pm at night.

He endured the hours, but when payday came around at the end of the first month, instead of the thousands he was expecting, he received only £300.

“The agency suddenly said we owed them ‘solicitor’s fees,’ rent, cleaning and transport costs. When I complained they threatened to revoke my visa and send me home,” said Omar.

Omar was shocked by the behaviour of the agency - which was run by people from his home country, but felt trapped in the situation. If he continued to work, he would be paid meagre wages for exhausting and excessive hours, but if he refused, he would be sent back home with nothing to show for his family’s investment in him.

“It was tough,” he said. “A lot of my colleagues would break down and cry every day because they weren’t sending enough money home to their family.

“It became about survival, and even if we were only earning a few hundred pounds a month, if we could send £100 back home, it feels multiplied by 10 there.

“In my home country things are very tough, so the people who come to England will struggle through the abuse, through the pain, through everything and not say anything because you're in a ‘better country.’ No matter what, even if times are hard, you have to bear in mind that you're in a better place, so you have to find a way to send them money.”

Omar spent seven gruelling months working 18-hour shifts, day in, day out, with barely a break. He should have been earning thousands.

“I remember last Christmas well, as I remember December was my breaking point.

“I was told that if I worked more days, worked harder, I could expect more pay. So for December, I worked 29 out of 31 days. But the pay came and I still got paid next to nothing, it was no more than £500, even though I had worked long long shifts. The pay should have been closer to £5,000, but they said I owed them ‘fees.’

Relief came to Omar in the form of a police raid on the agency, after a tip off about the exploitation of its workers. He was referred to Causeway’s safe houses for modern slavery survivors, where he is currently hoping to have his visa taken on by another, more reputable agency.

“I just hope I'll find a different employer that takes safeguarding seriously and makes me feel comfortable to work in that space,” he said. “The thought of going back into the care sector does give me anxiety though. What if these people are going to do the same thing that these previous employers did to me? It makes me scared to even try, although I do love the job because you get to create these friendships with these clients. You see them every day. You walk into their house, they're smiling, and that that was the nice part.”

Whilst he is waiting for a new work visa, Omar tries to keep busy by going to the gym, or to his local church, but can sometimes feel isolated and depressed.

“When I speak to my family back home, sometimes I tell them that I can't deal with the loneliness. I’m young, I have so much energy, so much potential, and not being able to do anything - it takes a toll on you psychologically.

“When I got on the plane to come here, when it finally touched down, I felt like I was about to get my whole life together. I'm not married. I don't have kids. So whatever I was going to earn, I was going to invest. But then I came here, and it was it was all just a facade. But I’m going to pick myself up, and start afresh. I’m going to continue the plan  I came here with for a better life.”

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