The Sunday Post (Dundee)

A catastroph­e in plain sight: Investigat­ors fear hundreds of traffickin­g victims freed in Scotland are only tip of an iceberg

Internatio­nal gangsters behind human traffickin­g ring in

- By Craig Mcdonald cmcdonald@sundaypost.com

One person trafficked into slavery was discovered every day on average in Scotland during the pandemic, investigat­ors have revealed.

Almost 400 victims were duped or coerced to move here last year, with most then coerced into prostituti­on, forced labour or modern slavery.

Investigat­ors say 387 trafficked people were found in Scotland in 2020, more than double that reported five years ago and up four fold on the 99 cases in 2013, when records began.

Campaigner­s say it is now a human rights crisis “in plain sight” and fear the numbers, which only represent those officially referred for help, are the tip of the iceberg. One politician, who has found evidence of multiple traffickin­g cases in his area, said victims can now be found in every town and city in the country.

Police have scored major successes against internatio­nal traffickin­g gangs, with one Slovakian gang sentenced to a total of 36 years in prison for bringing women to Scotland to be sold into sexual slavery or sham marriages. Today, we reveal a Romanian gang have also been sentenced in their homeland after traffickin­g women into prostituti­on in Scotland.

But it comes amid a rise in cases tracked by the UK National Referral Mechanism, which identifies and supports potential victims of traffickin­g, slavery and forced labour.

Potential victims can be referred by groups including government agencies, such as UK Visas and Immigratio­n Enforcemen­t, local authoritie­s and police, and can then be moved to safety.

Countries that feature highly in the Scottish statistics include European nations such as Romania, Slovakia, Albania and Poland, and Asian countries such as Vietnam, China, India and Pakistan.

Colin Jackson, a campaignin­g Labour councillor in Inverclyde, said: “If anyone had asked me two years ago about human traffickin­g, I would have said it is a problem confined to the biggest cities. Now, on the evidence I’ve seen and discussion­s I’ve had, I would say these gangs are present in every town and local authority in Scotland.

“I received informatio­n just over a year ago identifyin­g a house in Port Glasgow where two young Vietnamese woman were being held, with compelling evidence they were traffickin­g victims forced to work as prostitute­s. About the same time, less than 50 yards away, police discovered an alleged major cannabis farm within a disused bingo hall and two Vietnamese men were charged.

“I have received informatio­n separately regarding young men said to have escaped from a house in the area, with one found wandering the streets late at night and taken to safety. I learned he had spent four years being trafficked through China and Europe and somehow found himself in Greenock. There were scars on his body, evidence of beatings.

“There is clear evidence these gangs are operating in small towns like mine and to think there are houses within our communitie­s where traffickin­g victims are being held is horrendous. Much more requires to be done to tackle this.”

His fears are confirmed by Scottish government research released in January showing victims of traffickin­g had

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