We have a duty to make sure no-one is en­slaved any­where, least of all here

The Scotsman - - Perspective - Kenny Ma­caskill

It’s the 21st cen­tury, but slav­ery is sadly still with us, not sim­ply in re­minders from the past in the shape of stat­ues. It’s on­go­ing and hap­pen­ing in our com­mu­ni­ties. Per­haps it’s not as in­sti­tu­tion­alised as in past cen­turies where it was in­grained in so­ci­eties, but it’s most cer­tainly com­mer­cialised. This time it’s not through great trad­ing com­pa­nies who made vast for­tunes, but through se­ri­ous and or­gan­ised crime groups, who equally make huge prof­its out of hu­man mis­ery. Some are in­ter­na­tional gangs or tri­ads, oth­ers are our own ne’er-do-wells.

Hu­man traf­fick­ing is mod­ern slav­ery, even if it might not be as brazen as slave ships land­ing in Africa to take shack­led souls to new lands. Some do come by ship, but more by plane or train, of­ten just as with or­di­nary trav­ellers. They may not be chained to­gether or branded, but they are ex­ploited and in­vari­ably threat­ened. Nor do they al­most in­vari­ably come from Africa, in­stead from all parts of the globe. The level of treat­ment may vary, from cal­lous in­dif­fer­ence to ap­palling degra­da­tion and from se­ri­ous threats to se­vere vi­o­lence, but all forms are equally vile and re­pul­sive, as it was all those years ago.

The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment is right to raise the is­sue and high­light the prob­lem. Over re­cent years new laws have been en­acted pro­vid­ing a more ro­bust frame­work to deal with what is an in­ter­na­tional trade. It doesn’t just ar­rive in Scot­land, be­cause Scots gangs have been in­volved in op­er­at­ing traf­fick­ing in Ire­land. But it flows in and out and around the globe, hence why close co-op­er­a­tion is re­quired not just with law en­force­ment in Ire­land and the rest of the UK, but with Europol and In­ter­pol. The in­cep­tion of Po­lice Scot­land has al­lowed for a ded­i­cated unit to be es­tab­lished to fo­cus not just on the per­pe­tra­tors but the vic­tims. More­over, ad­di­tional sup­port has been pro­vided to those who work with those of­ten vul­ner­a­ble and in­vari­ably fright­ened in­di­vid­u­als.

What’s needed now is aware­ness and ac­tion not just by the au­thor­i­ties or char­i­ties but by us all, be­cause it is hap­pen­ing all around. Crime is fre­quently seen as some­thing that blights urban de­prived areas, not more af­flu­ent parts or ru­ral idylls. Yet this vile trade is more likely to be hap­pen­ing just there, where em­ploy­ment and op­por­tu­nity abound, than in the areas nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with of­fend­ing. The maps show­ing the ex­tent of the prob­lem in Scot­land will have amazed many, as those areas high­lighted are not nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with crim­i­nal­ity and its res­i­dents are law-abid­ing.

It is a deeply com­plex mat­ter and it’s un­der­stand­able that peo­ple might not even have been aware of the pos­si­bil­ity of traf­fick­ing ex­ist­ing in their midst. The im­age of­ten por­trayed is of pros­ti­tu­tion or labour gangs. Of course these are fac­tors, but it’s far wider than that and much more in­sid­i­ous. Many be­ing traf­ficked are aware of it go­ing on though some are duped and be­lieve that a job awaits. They’re not man­a­cled but are teth­ered in other ways. Some­times it’s the threat of vi­o­lence to them or to their fam­i­lies back home, other times it can be the money due to them or owed by them, never mind the pass­port re­moved from them or the visa never ob­tained by them.

A few years back I met vic­tims who had been freed from small towns in the north of Scot­land and heard of oth­ers be­ing abused in a lovely town in our south west cor­ner. They weren’t in pros­ti­tu­tion or slave labour, but fish­ing and agri­cul­ture, and to all in­tents and pur­poses would have looked as if they were go­ing about their daily busi­ness. It’s no won­der the lo­cal com­mu­nity were ap­palled upon hear­ing of it.

Those in­volved in the trade are skilled and adept at keep­ing be­low the radar, not just of law en­force­ment but of pry­ing eyes. That’s why much of the ex­ploita­tion hap­pens if not se­cretly, then cer­tainly dis­creetly. The prob­lem is com­pounded by the vic­tims’ fear both of those that are en­slav­ing them and those who might lib­er­ate them. Many come from so­ci­eties where po­lice and law en­force­ment are not the be­nign ser­vices that we have in Scot­land. There’s a fear of au­thor­ity in­grained from the world from which they come. Those fears are played on by those hold­ing them, to re­duce the risks of seek­ing to flee and get help.

All of that is com­pounded by a sense of hope­less­ness and alien­ation that abounds when away from home in a strange land and where ac­cess to the out­side world is re­stricted. I re­call be­ing told a story by the Po­lice Ser­vice of North­ern Ire­land which could be funny if it wasn’t tragic. They’d freed some Viet­namese be­ing ex­ploited by a gang in a ru­ral town in County Antrim. When an in­ter­preter ar­rived, they were asked if they knew where they were. They in­sisted they were in Lon­don. De­spite the best ef­forts of the PSNI they wouldn’t be­lieve that they were in a small town just out­side Belfast, not the great me­trop­o­lis.

That’s why rais­ing aware­ness is so vi­tal. There are signs to look for and they need to be ad­vised not just to public of­fi­cials but to all of us. Progress has been made within both the public and pri­vate sec­tor. I re­call a sum­mit be­ing held a few years back for that very pur­pose. Health work­ers need to be able to iden­tify tell-tale signs of abuse among peo­ple they treat, as much as reg­is­trars need to keep an eye out for fic­ti­tious mar­riages. When the cou­ple obvi- ously don’t ap­pear to know each other, some­thing’s clearly amiss!

The pri­vate sec­tor has equal obli­ga­tions and those who at­tended went away un­der­stand­ing the is­sue and their re­quire­ments. Busi­ness has to look out for tell-tale signs in work­ers and sup­pli­ers.

More needs done and by all of us, not just law en­force­ment, or public au­thor­ity and pri­vate busi­ness. We are our brother and sis­ter’s keeper and we have an obli­ga­tion to en­sure that no-one is kept in bondage any­where; and cer­tainly not in our land.


0 Mod­ern slav­ery and hu­man traf­fick­ing is hap­pen­ing right here and now across Scot­land

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