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Allison Morris

The Izekors human slavery case highlights importance of trafficking and exploitation legislation

Allison Morris


Precious Izekor and her husband, Osarobo ‘John’ Izekor, at Belfast Crown Court (Picture: Alan Lewis)

Precious Izekor and her husband, Osarobo ‘John’ Izekor, at Belfast Crown Court (Picture: Alan Lewis)

Photopress Belfast

Precious Izekor and her husband, Osarobo ‘John’ Izekor, at Belfast Crown Court (Picture: Alan Lewis)

The sentencing of Osarobo ‘John’ Izekor and his wife, Precious Izekor, will bring to an end a six-year ordeal for the young woman they forced to work for them without pay while living in Northern Ireland.

The husband and wife, with an address at Ashmount Gardens, Lisburn, had previously admitted that between September 1, 2016, and September 30, 2017, they “required another person to perform forced or compulsory labour”.

On Monday the pair were spared jail as they were both handed a two-year prison sentence which was suspended for two years.

The landmark case, heard at Belfast Crown Court, is believed to be the first prosecutions under the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act.

The young woman, who was a Nigerian national, was kept as a domestic slave in their then Castlereagh Place home in east Belfast.

The woman had arrived in Northern Ireland five years previously and worked as a nanny for John Izekor’s sister without any incident.

But when her original employer returned to Nigeria in the Autumn 2016, she was sent to live with the Izekors.

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The woman was told money would be sent to her family for any work she undertook, but no money was transferred and the woman’s labour as a childminder and housekeeper amounted to extreme exploitation.

While the court was told the woman had her own room and was given food and clothes, she was not paid any money, despite previous assurances.

The Izekors also had possession of her passport and other documents — this, coupled with the fact the woman spoke no English, added to her vulnerability.

It was when the woman expressed a desire to return to Nigeria to marry that the true nature of the relationship with the couple was revealed.

Precious was said to have argued with her and the woman later left the property and went to stay with a friend, who contacted the Home Office.

But it was what happened next that revealed the true, nefarious nature of the relationship and did away with any doubt that the couple knew their treatment of the young woman was illegal.

Precious Izekor at first pretended not to know her, later claiming she was a family friend and had never been asked to carry out any labour.

Text messages between the couple and the woman show that not to be the case.

The woman was, in fact, working as an unpaid childminder and housekeeper.

While she was able to come and go from the house to collect the children from school and run errands, her lack of English and access to any money or her travel documents rendered her trapped.

She will now be paid £10,000 that had been lodged as a bail surety by the couple as compensation for her work.

The case has shown that the new legislation, if properly applied, can be successful.

But the issue is that those forced into slave labour are held in coercive conditions, afraid of the consequences if they contact the Home Office or police.

Recent restrictive plans passed by the British Government, as well as Home Secretary Priti Patel’s commitment to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, are likely to further add to the fear of those being exploited.

While the first flight to Rwanda was cancelled minutes before take-off after an intervention by the European Court of Human Rights, the Government has said it will not be deterred and plans for the next flight are already underway.

Exploitation thrives in an environment of fear and silence and fear of deportation is likely to be used by those who wish to keep cheap or slave labour in a compliant state to instil further fear.

It is not just the exploitation of asylum seekers and those who enter the country via unofficial channels that is cause of concern for human rights organisations.

The United Nations has expressed concerns about the human trafficking of Ukrainian refugees, fleeing war in the region.

Millions of people have been displaced by the conflict, with those escaping mainly woman and children.

Ghada Waly, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, warned: “People who have fled conflict, especially women and children, are particularly at risk of human trafficking and exploitation.

“They can be more easily deceived by phoney travel arrangements and fake job offers that lead them into exploitative situations. Traffickers are known to use such methods, as well as violence, to trick and coerce their victims,” she added.

The charity Unseen said in May of this year that Ukrainians had been calling the Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline after arriving into the UK to find the promise of safe shelter was, in fact, an attempt to trap them into forced labour.

Sex traffickers were also said to be operating at the border, offering exhausted women transport before abducting them for sexual exploitation.

The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act is an important piece of legislation, but for it to be successful, people must have the confidence to come forward and report exploitation of themselves or others.

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