Belfast Telegraph

Compensation call for slave victims

Britain's first anti-slavery commissioner has called for victims of forced labour to receive compensation.

Kevin Hyland warned as few as a tenth of survivors received any support or police investigation after the Home Office disclosed that up to 13,000 people are affected.

The former senior detective at the Metropolitan Police is spearheading the fight against the evil trade.

He said: "The victims and survivors deserve justice, and that must, where appropriate, include compensation.

"The victimisation of others will only be prevented through a robust, effective criminal justice system where those responsible for inflicting these crimes are convicted and imprisoned.

"Bureaucracy, or convoluted processes do nothing to help those trapped in modern slavery, but perversely benefit those who commit these crimes. So I expect a swift and effective response."

Mr Hyland was appointed by Home Secretary Theresa May in November. He attended a conference in Newry, Co Down, on forced labour in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Last month the Home Office said up to 13,000 potential victims live in the UK, a dramatic increase on previous estimates.

Mr Hyland added: "This is in contrast to the official statistics that are recorded in crime reports, meaning as few as one in 10 victims of modern slavery receive any form of support or a police investigation.

"So are we responding to modern slavery with a modern response?

"Well in many cases the answer is no."

Mr Hyland said he wanted to ensure victims are identified and given the support they need.

He said: "Criminal gangs who coerce, deceive and force vulnerable people in to a life of abuse, do not recognise borders, but often see them as new regions to trade and increase their criminal enterprise, to make money.

"Slavery today exists for the same purpose as it has throughout history: to maximise profit for exploiters by minimising or eliminating the cost of labour."

He said some organisations in Northern Ireland have developed a response in a modern, innovate, compassionate and effective manner. Women's Aid and Migrant Help organisations are providing front line services.

Justice ministers north and south of the Irish border attended the Newry conference and have pledged to support efforts to crack down on forced labour.

In Great Britain, a new Government strategy on modern slavery, sets out the need for partnerships with other organisations, better victim care and requiring law enforcement to be innovative in developing ways to pursue criminals who operate nationally and often across several borders.

Mr Hyland added: "One thing we must be very clear on is that modern slavery is serious and very often organised and extremely violent crime that destroys lives.

"The traffickers and slave masters do not care what anyone says; words, whether they be from the UK anti-slavery commissioner, police chiefs, secretaries of state or indeed heads of state mean nothing to them.

"However, what they do care about is when they are arrested, convicted and stripped of all their assets. They can in fact get quite emotional when that happens: I know having seen this first hand."

He said the victim should be empowered.

"We need to have services that encourage those who are trapped or where they manage to become free from modern slavery to feel safe and confident to seek the help they deserve, and that ensure those who perpetrate these crimes do not operate with impunity.

"We must ensure that they come to fear that they will be pursued relentlessly.

"If anyone is a victim of this serious crime, we must be clear of our priority, that their nationality, background or immigration status must not be a bar to them receiving support and justice."

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