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

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US  

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Robert Fisk
 

Next they'll say an independent Scotland can't use British clouds...

Mark Steel
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape