Human trafficking also concerns Slovaks. They are mostly sold to the UK

The focus has recently been shifting from women to men. They are sold into forced work, to carry out jobs nobody else wants to do.

Illustrative stock photoIllustrative stock photo (Source: Sme)

He comes from the vicinity of Rožňava. From a hunger valley where work is hard to find. That is why it particularly pleased him when seven years ago he found a job at a construction site in England, with a salary of almost three thousand euros .

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When Ladislav and his brother-in-law came to a family living outside London, everything seemed ideal to him.

“They treated us as their own,” he said. “They offered us food, they were very nice.”

The first thing he did was go to the bank, together with the person who got him the job. Neither he nor his brother-in-law spoke the language.

“They helped us open a bank account. He also knew what passwords we used, but we did not care much. He said the bank cards would come in a week,” says Ladislav.

The work turned out to be tough. Every day they would bring them to a construction site 200 kilometres away. They worked 12-hour shifts, and hardly got any sleep. Gradually, the behaviour of their hosts changed too. After working their shift and going home, there were still tasks to do: mow the lawn, or help someone move houses. But there was no money.

“We saw the bank records, that the money came, but it was gone immediately. We did not have our bank cards,” Ladislav says.

After one month of work it seemed suspicious, but the man who got him his job was able to calm his concerns. So he worked on. At that point, however, his sister-in-law began to say that they were probably sold and are only exploited in England.

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Ladislav then asked the host openly how much he had to work before they would leave him alone. They did not tell him the sum, and later tried to sell him to other exploiters. Only the police helped, after his sister-in-law’s report.

Even though the storyline sounds naive, it is a real story of a man who fell victim to human trafficking. A business, that is the best-paying “business” in the underworld, after drug and arms trafficking.

It is not much discussed in Slovakia, but the country is among those with a high increase in the number of such cases. Only last year, the number doubled compared to the previous year, from 14 to 29 that the police dealt with.

This is but a fraction of the real numbers, says Zuzana Vatráľová from the Slovak branch of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Since human trafficking is a hidden activity, the police and NGOs mostly learn about the victims who report themselves or are discovered during a police raid.

“The British police estimate the number of human trafficking victims from Slovakia at several thousand per year,” Vatráľová said. “The Slovak Embassy in the UK estimates it in the hundreds.”

Roma like Indian

The UK is the most common destination where trafficked Slovaks end up - about eight out of 10. It is followed by Germany, Austria, and then a whole spectrum of other countries, with negligible numbers.

In the past mainly Slovak girls were trafficked, for prostitution or work in the porn industry, but recently the focus has shifted to forced labour of men. Traffickers force them to work on farms, in production halls, doing jobs that the locals refuse to take.

Forced marriages with immigrants are still rather popular too, says Adrián Begáň from the National Unit of Fight against Illegal Migration.

“Based on the marriage with an EU citizen these people gain residence in the UK,” he explained. The concerned immigrants are mainly from India and Pakistan, but also Afghanistan. They are looking for women who look of similar type. Most often they end up with uneducated Roma from eastern Slovakia who do not speak the language and thus cannot defend themselves.

The price for one girl can be up to €20,000. To get the money back from the girls, their husbands often force them into prostitution. If they do not do as they are told, they are beaten or raped.

But new and unknown forms of trafficking keep appearing as well.

“It is such a profitable business that it is worth it to come up with new ways all the time,” Vatráľová said. “In the more than 10 years I have been dealing with this issue, I must say that the cases get ever more complicated and the perpetrators are ever more creative.”

Besides the typical sexual and work exploitation or forced begging, she has recently also encountered a case of lost identity.

“They took the papers from the parents with the excuse that they were going to handle some issues. In the end they were paid the family allowances on their behalf,” Vatráľová said.

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It is also not uncommon, she says, that the work abroad is legal and even the employer is unaware that some of his or her employees have been trafficked. They send the salaries to their accounts, unaware that the money never makes it to the workers.

Brits mapped the situation in Slovakia

To solve the growing problem, the Slovak police set up two investigation teams, one in England and one in Scotland. If they suspect trafficking, they perform raids in both countries simultaneously so that the gang members have no time to warn each other.

Most recently, the police applied this tactic to dissolve a group of ten people who were recruiting in Trebišov and sold the women for forced marriages to Scotland.

“We have identified 12 victims and there are 10 accused so far, nine out of them Slovaks. But the investigation is still on,” Begáň said.

Britain also deals with human trafficking from other countries. PM Theresa May labelled it "the great human rights issue of our time". In her time as the Home Secretary she pushed through stricter laws. The new legislation widened the powers of the police during raids and introduced harsher punishments for traffickers.

The Brits are also interested in mapping the situation in the countries of origin, like Slovakia. They recently sent a mapping team to Slovakia too. The results of which they have not yet published. And the UK Embassy talks about close cooperation between the two countries.

“Solving the modern day slavery including human trafficking is one of our priorities,” said the embassy’s press officer M onika Holečková.

The data of the Slovak police show the victims mainly come from the east of the country and from the poor regions in the south, namely the Košice and Banska Bystrica regions.

State returns the victims home

Taking the people from the environment in which they were enslaved is not the end of the help. The Interior Ministry runs a separate programme of support and protection of victims of human trafficking.

If the victim decides to cooperate with the prosecution bodies, they can receive complex care during the entire duration of the prosecution, the ministry explained. The victims receive health, psychological, and social aid. If it is proved that the person was sold abroad, the state also pays for their trip home.

The Interior Ministry cooperates on helping the victims of human trafficking with the IOM, the Slovak Catholic Charity, and the Dotyk organisation. They help the victims integrate back into normal life, and cooperate on the prevention.

“Most recently we have launched a mobile app that contains prevention info about human trafficking and tips on how to travel abroad safely,” Vatráľová said. “It is for teachers, social workers, but also a tool for young people.”

The NGOs thus try to explain how to distinguish a real job offer from a fraud, and advise people what to be careful about when they leave Slovakia. Even though they say the public awareness has improved, they warn that the factors that influence the existence of modern day slavery have not been solved in the long run.

“If people do not have access to dignified work in Slovakia, they will be exposed to real risk from unscrupulous traffickers who do not hesitate to abuse a person as a slave,” said Anna Bartošová from the catholic charity. The state should, therefore, focus on solving poverty, unemployment, the bad social situation, or help children from foster homes after they leave and need to integrated into life.

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