World Day Against Trafficking In Persons 2023

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World Day Against Trafficking in Persons exists to raise awareness about human trafficking and to promote and protect the rights of trafficking victims. Causeway marked this day in 2023 by producing a series of educational content pieces around trafficking, including a survivor bravely sharing their story.

Human trafficking, illegal migration, people smuggling, asylum seeking, small boats, border crossings, refugees; there’s a lot of noise around the movement of people.

But with all the confusion around ‘taking back our borders,’ and ‘stopping the boats,’ the conflation of people smuggling with human trafficking has meant that genuine victims of human trafficking will become collateral damage in efforts to prevent people from ‘playing the system.’

But does human trafficking have anything to do with small boats crossing the English Channel?

We don’t believe so.

Human trafficking is the recruitment, movement, and harbouring of someone with the intention of exploiting them for profit. Lone traffickers, or criminal gangs use force, threats, coercion or tricks to lure people into exploitation, often with promises of jobs or opportunities abroad. Once under their power, they use violence, intimidation or the threat of deportation to control them. This is different to people smuggling.

Refugees and economic migrants escaping war, violence or poverty sometimes travel across borders with the help of people smugglers. Whilst they may feel they have no other options, and the journeys are dangerous and miserable, they are moving of their own free will. Their extreme vulnerability on the journey can make them targets for human traffickers.

At Causeway we support thousands of people who have been trafficked and exploited, and each person’s story is unique. However, they were all vulnerable in a way that made them appealing to traffickers. They may have lived in poverty, been desperate to flee war or disaster, or simply looking for opportunities that didn’t exist at home.

Some people may be encouraged to travel by relatives, or as part of an arranged marriage, then find themselves used as free domestic labour. Others may travel on the promise of work, but are then trapped with a debt they are unable to repay. Some are physically forced into vehicles to be transported across countries, and kept in slavery for years.

Many British people are also trafficked within the UK, sometimes between cities, sometimes merely between streets. If someone is forced to travel for sex work, made to sell drugs or transport stolen goods, and are doing it under duress, controlled through fear, and the money made given to someone else, then they are victims of trafficking.

Mercy’s Story

“I would love to be able to tell young people not to trust people who offer you things abroad. It is nothing but trafficking. It will waste your time and ruin your life.”

Mercy* was working as an auxiliary nurse in Nigeria and struggling to provide for her three children when she was approached by a woman offering her the chance to work in the UK for a higher salary.

“I said I didn’t have any money for the flight”, said Mercy, “But she said she was impressed by how well I was caring for her elderly mother, and that she would pay for everything. She said I could pay her back when I found work as a care assistant in the UK. I wanted to make more money so I could give my children a better life, so I said yes.”

“When we got to London the story changed”, said Mercy, “the story changed entirely.”

Mercy, who had never been to the UK, didn’t know anyone, and who had no money of her own, was taken to a house where she was told to share a room with three other women, and given a small sofa to sleep on.

The woman who had persuaded her to travel to the UK quickly turned cold and nasty, and told Mercy she needed to pay back the money she owed her quickly. She also told Mercy that if she did not do as she was told, she would receive no food.

The woman who had encouraged Mercy to leave her children, her country, her home, and her job forced her into sex work.

“If any man came to the house in a taxi then I had to go with him. There were so many different men, and they all paid the money to her, never to me. I don’t believe they didn’t know I was being forced. They can’t say they didn’t know.

I was so angry; this is not what I had been promised. I wanted to run away but there was nowhere to go. I had no money, no friends in the UK, I didn’t know the law. And she kept saying to me. No money, no food.”

As well as sex work, Mercy was made to wash dishes in a restaurant where her wages were collected by her trafficker. It was here however that she met someone whom she trusted with her story, and who agreed to help her.

“He offered to take care of me, to take me away, so I had to trust him”, said Mercy.

Three years after arriving in London, and never being allowed to keep a penny she earned, Mercy found herself in Manchester scraping a living washing cars and doing other odd jobs.

“I wanted to go to the police. I wanted to ask someone for help”, she said, “But I was scared I would be deported and sent back to Nigeria. I had left everything behind. I had no money to show for the years I had been here, and the woman said that she would find me there if I ever ran away.”

Mercy eventually applied for asylum, and it was during her first Home Office interview that she told staff what had happened to her. They referred her into the modern slavery support system known as the NRM, and from there she was supported by modern slavery support charity Causeway.

“Causeway tried really hard to make my life better”, she said, “They have been very good to me. They helped me financially, and when I was in distress, they were there for me. I hope that I am granted asylum so that I can finally work properly as a care assistant, and do all the things that I wanted to do. England is my home now.

Everything is gone in Nigeria for me. I left everything behind. I have not been able to get in touch with my children. I do not know where they are.

I would love to be able to tell young people there not to trust people who offer you things abroad. It is nothing but trafficking. It will waste your time and ruin your life.”