The year 2007 may have marked the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery, but the reality is that many people around the world are living in conditions of forced labour or slavery. In her book Enslaved: The New British Slavery, Rahila Gupta gets in contact with five modern day slaves and convinces them to share their stories. These are heartbreaking and shocking tales that expose the hidden and invisible world of modern day slavery. All of these testimonies were obtained in England, so this is not simply a “third world problem” that we can sweep under a rug; it is happening in our neighbourhoods.
The book includes the testimonies of five modern day slaves:
1. Farhia Nur was from Somalia. She tells the story of how she was subjected to the most severe type of female genital mutilation, infibulation, when she was only eight-years-old. She was just seventeen years of age when war broke out in Somalia and she found herself unable to return home from her place of work where she helped out with household chores. Once dependent on her employers, they stopped paying her, and one of the men in the family began to sexually assault her. She was eventually trafficked to England and began a long process of seeking asylum while repeatedly being subjected to further exploitation and unpaid labor.
2. Natasha Bulova originally came from Samara in Soviet Union. Natasha responded to an offer to work abroad and was trafficked to Brussels via Frankfurt. On arrival in Brussels she was sexually assaulted and forced into prostitution. When she tried to leave, she was informed that she was deeply in debt with her pimp for the costs of her transportation, visas and passport. After a particularly vicious attack by a client, she was sold to a pimp in London who also assaulted her repeatedly and forced her to work as a prostitute. Eventually, she was caught in a police raid and began the process of seeking asylum.
3. Naomi Conte was just ten-years-old when war broke out in Sierra Leone and she found herself homeless and alone on the streets of Freetown. After living on the streets for eighteen months, she was taken in by a family and made to look after their children for no pay. She was trafficked to England and made to work as an unpaid domestic servant and subjected to incredible abuse. She eventually escaped with a man to Birmingham but he soon began to prostitute her and took all of the money too. She made it back to London where she discovered she was pregnant and began the long process of applying for asylum.
4. Liu Bao Ren tells the horrific story of his persecution as a Fujianese person in China and his gruelling and shocking journey as he was trafficked across Asia and Europe by a triad gang. He arrived in England quite by accident and began a process of working for near slave wages as he attempted to pay back the triad gang. He tells of paying exorbitant rentals for rooms that housed several men, cockle-picking on the coast and falling out of favour of the triads.
5. Amber Lobepreet from the Punjab in India was married young and the demands of the groom’s family almost ruined her own family’s financial standings. It seems that the couple were in love at first but Amber soon found herself abused by the mother and sister. They all moved to England where Amber was made to do all of the cooking and cleaning in the home and where her husband took on a lover. Amber was subjected to the most horrendous treatment before being rejected by both her family and that of her husband and finding herself all alone in England.
The five stories were very well told and were aided by competent interpreters. It is nearly impossible to put the book down, as you try to come to terms with the fact that these are true stories that happened to real people and that some of the worst of these people’s experiences occurred within the borders of one of the most powerful nations on the planet.
In the last third of the book, the author takes an in depth look into why people migrate and the differences between trafficked victims and economic migrants. She goes into some detail in analysing the financial impact of immigration and seeks to dispel the myth that immigrants cost tax payers huge amounts of money. In fact, Gupta states, migrants constitute ten per cent of the population in the United Kingdom and produce eight per cent of the wealth. She reminds the reader that asylum seekers do not get free medical care and are extremely limited in their recourse to public funds. Gupta calls for wide-ranging reforms in immigration policy as she asserts that it is this policy which fuels situation in which slavery, forced labour and trafficking can occur. Such arguments might be especially pertinent now with the Conservative and Liberal Democrat alliance in power as both of these parties called for a tightening of immigration controls and more stringent conditions to be imposed on refugees.
This is a very good book that will dispel the myth that modern day slavery does not exist. I would certainly recommend it for any reader seeking to expand their knowledge of trafficking, slavery and the plight of asylum seekers.