The number of people being trafficked into the UK could increase as criminals look to exploit those hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, an expert has warned.
Unseen UK chief executive Andrew Wallis said thousands of victims arrive in the country each year through traffickers, having been promised a chance to escape poverty or support their families back home financially.
But instead they find themselves at the mercy of criminal gangs who force them into illegal work to pay off inflated debts while threatening them with violence.
A report published in July found there could be 100,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK (Victoria Jones/PA)
And he warned that more people could be at risk of falling victim to traffickers in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Mr Wallis told the PA news agency: “I think as a result of Covid-19 and the economic downturn we are going to see an increase (in human trafficking to the UK) because as the economy shrinks and as people become more vulnerable, the risk of exploitation increases.
“With the huge global imbalance between economies there will be a draw. If you’ve got no options in life, if your options are grinding poverty and someone says ‘there’s a way out of this’, then human nature takes over.”
Traffickers use various methods to find their victims, including through posting adverts promising the chance to earn more money in western Europe, Mr Wallis said.
But what victims do not realise is that they are being “set-up”, he added.
“When they arrive, what they thought was a 400 US dollar debt (£302) that they have to pay off is suddenly 4,000 US dollars (£3002), so the debt bondage control begins,” Mr Wallis said.
“They are then forced to work or subjected to fines meaning they can never pay it off.”
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