British stories of Nigerian Cinderellas are no fairy tale

Slavery still exists in modern-day Britain. And how we treat victims is not pretty

Share
Related Topics

Ely was born in Nsukka, a small town in Nigeria.

“When I was about six years old, after my father’s death,” she says, “I was sent to work in his friend’s house in return for education. My family were not able to pay my school fees. I stayed with this family for about 12 years. I worked for the family, initially caring for their baby and working as a domestic worker. I was regularly beaten and, on one occasion, I was beaten so badly that I needed stitches in my head.”

At the age of 18, Ely was recruited to work for a new employer, based in the UK. She was told that she would be well looked after and promised £400 a month, three days off a week, money for a computer course and health care. Her passport and her migrant domestic worker visa were arranged by her new employer. Ely, however, ended up being exploited again. Her passport was withheld, she had no days off, she was sexually abused, paid only sporadically and her movements were restricted by her trafficker. After a few years, Ely became ill but was allowed only minimal access to medical services.

“My trafficker often threatened me with prison if I tried to escape… I reached a stage where I felt suicidal.”

Eventually, a female door-to-door preacher gave Ely the Citizen’s Advice Bureau’s number and she managed to escape. With the help of other organisations, such as Kalayaan and the Poppy Project, Ely managed to slowly rebuild her life, and avoided falling once again into a trap of domestic servitude.

Ely’s story is one of forty tales of Nigerians trafficked into the UK that are published in a new IPPR report. The report highlights the need for an end-to-end approach to tackling human trafficking, beyond just border control.

The UK’s response to human trafficking has certainly come a long way since the days of ad hoc police raids and support provided solely through charity-funded voluntary sector agencies. The government’s human trafficking strategy marks an opportunity for the UK to put its learning into practice and respond to the issue more effectively. There are, however, still significant gaps in the current system for addressing various forms of trafficking, particularly trafficking for the purpose of domestic servitude.

Under the new system, migrant domestic workers like Ely are no longer allowed to change employer, a key feature of the previous visa. They are also no longer allowed to renew their visa while in the UK, and are legally required to enter and leave the country at the same time as their employer.

With this new visa regulation, domestic workers who have had a similar experience to Ely will no longer have the option to stay in the UK and seek a new employer, and may therefore be more reluctant to come forward to report abuse.

Last year, Home Secretary Theresa May said that revisions to the Overseas Domestic Workers visa were designed to ensure that this route is not abused by unskilled workers wishing to enter and settle in the UK. This fits with the government’s wider policy of seeking to reduce net migration to the UK.

But campaigners supporting migrant domestic workers argue that migrant domestic workers have a negligible impact on overall migration. A report by Kalayaan suggests that only five per cent of Overseas Domestic Workers settle in the UK. Moreover, according to the Trades Union Congress, Overseas Domestic Workers have a minimal impact on local employment and services, with the tax they pay exceeding the public costs of their stay in the UK.

The IPPR report shows that stringent immigration policies are not necessarily effective at addressing trafficking and can increase opportunities for exploitation.  It argues that the government should re-establish the domestic worker visa with its previous basic entitlements to allow people like Ely to change employer, and extend these regulations to diplomatic households.

A comprehensive anti-trafficking strategy should also provide greater opportunities for trafficked people to pursue civil as well as criminal cases against their employers. In civil cases, the burden of proof is lowered and the financial penalties can be a deterrent to traffickers, particularly those operating alone or on a small scale. Civil cases can also deliver meaningful justice for the victims of trafficking. Reform of the employment tribunal system would be an important step in the right direction. Furthermore, temporary residence permits should be issued to people who need to stay in the UK to pursue a civil case in the same way that they are issued to those pursuing criminal cases.

In tackling human trafficking, we are helping to stop the spread of modern day slavery. Implementing these changes would be a welcome step.

Myriam Cherti is Senior Research Fellow at IPPR

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
The Big Society Network was assessed as  

What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Oliver Wright
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary