Working to ease misery of human trafficking
FORCED into servitude to repay debts or sold for sexual exploitation, many might think the ugly truth of human trafficking is the stuff of films or foreign lands.
But it is happening here, right now. In Swindon.
Such is the level of activity across the county that Wiltshire Police, in line with Home Office edicts, have formed the Human Exploitation and Emerging Threats unit – a special taskforce designed to gather intelligence and smash the organised gangs that deal in the trade in human beings.
So far Wiltshire Police have rescued 10 victims of human trafficking across the county who have been accepted into the Home Office’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM), while a further 16 were offered a place in the NRM, which seeks to repatriate victims to their homeland.
Inspector Matt Davey, team manager of Human Exploitation and Emerging Threats unit – HEET
Inspector Matt Davey, HEET team manager, said: “The victims of trafficking are very vulnerable people, predominantly having to pay off a debt to those who brought them to the UK. They are struggling to survive.”
In just the first three months, HEET – comprised of six officers including detectives and a financial investigator – has already acted to gather vital intelligence.
Raids have been carried out at supermarket car park-based car washes in the town, which can be hotspots for using forced labour, and two illegal immigrants from Albania were arrested in a sting operation in October.
In total 50 people were spoken to as part of Operation Eagle, which found many of the victims originated from Eastern Europe, including countries such as Bulgaria and Romania.
Insp Davey said it was as much about safeguarding the victims as it was about stopping the criminal gangs.
“With human trafficking, it is different to illegal immigration in the sense that there has to be some force or coercion – someone has to be exploited,” he said.
“There are various elements to human trafficking including sexual exploitation or forced labour and domestic servitude. And in terms of the actual logistics of moving a person from one country to another there is an element of planning and organisation so inevitably there are links to organised crime gangs.
“So our investigative process needs to be hand in hand with cross-border agencies and partner agencies, such as the National Crime Agency, the Border Agency and even non-governmental partners like the Salvation Army.
“One of our main objectives is safeguarding the victims and it’s all about treating them properly and overcome their fears. Many are from Eastern Europe and have very little English so we need to gain their trust and confidence because being trafficked is a traumatic ordeal.
“They have been brought here, their ID cards taken away from them and forced to work off their debt, whether behind closed doors or out in fields or other lines of work.”
Once discovered, all potential victims of trafficking are offered a place in the NRM, which was introduced in 2009 to meet the UK’s obligations under the Council of European Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.
The NRM records the location and identities of potential victims and grants a minimum 45-day reflection and recovery period, and provides a Government-funded safe house for them.
if it is determined they are a victim of trafficking they can either be given discretionary leave to remain in the UK to assist a criminal investigation or otherwise given support to be able to return to their home country.
In Swindon, hotel staff and front-line police officers are being trained to recognise the signs of human trafficking.
Even before the HEET unit was established, in a brothel raided in the town centre this July, neighbourhood officers and vice manager PC Louise Kuklinski discovered a 50-year-old woman, a Chinese national, who was suspected of having been trafficked for sex work.
Another Chinese national, a 38-year-old man, was arrested having been found with a large amount of cash.
And more proactive raids are planned throughout 2014, according to Insp Davey.
He added: “Our recent heightened focus on Human Trafficking means engaging with communities to increase intelligence reports and, more importantly, to reach the victims of these crimes. Proactive engagement through media, businesses and communities will encourage victims to have confidence in police and partners to keep them safe.
“This is a key element in trying to stop Human Trafficking from occurring as we have to reach out to those most vulnerable who, even though they have been trafficked and continue to be exploited, may have a cultural distrust in authorities.
“Historically, the identification and recording of trafficking offences has not been consistent. Officers may have recorded crimes in relation to immigration, drugs, sexual assault or controlling prostitution without considering trafficking offences against some of those victims. The establishment of the HEET team will raise awareness and build an intelligence picture to not only assist victims but also to prevent the people who engage in these crimes from continuing to operate in Wiltshire.”
Anyone with any information or suspicions of human trafficking should contact Wiltshire Police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
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