Sebastian’s story*

Sebastian is a European National and he was deceived into coming to the UK on a false promise of an offer of work and accommodation. When he arrived he was threatened, forced to live in squalid conditions, sleep on the floor and forced to work long hours for no pay. He was given so little food that he was forced to steal food to survive.

Sebastian was referred to the anti-slavery charity Hope for Justice when Sebastian approached a local church for help. Hope for Justice assisted Sebastian to be referred into the National Referral Mechanism for identifying and supporting victims of modern slavery. Although he was frightened of his traffickers Sebastian explained he wanted to cooperate with the police.

Sebastian was looked after in a safe house while the National Referral Mechanism assessed whether he was a victim. But he was told that this assistance was for 45 days and after that due to changes to welfare benefits he either had to return home or face homelessness on the streets in the UK. He decided he would rather be homeless because his exploiters were already trying to find him in his country of origin and he was terrified of returning home. At that point Sebastian became anxious about cooperating with the police. When Hope for Justice’s advocates met Sebastian he was physically shaking because of the uncertainty of his situation. He was offered very short extensions in the safe house but these were insufficient to sort out the issues he was facing and the uncertainty increased the stress he was under. This also left him in a state of limbo unable to psychologically move forward from his experience and this affected his mental health. Sebastian commented himself on the NRM support – “45 days is too little, it’s difficult to get over a bad dream in 45 days let alone human trafficking, you need more time.”

Hope for Justice was able to help Sebastian by advocating on his behalf, repeatedly challenging poor welfare decisions and working with other agencies to secure long term housing, welfare and support. Sebastian now speaks good English, he has his own house, he is working, contributing to society and pursuing a legal claim for compensation from his exploiters. We talked to Sebastian about Lord McColl’s Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill and asked him what he would say to members of parliament. He said:

“This is an excellent piece of initiative….I do think a longer period of time would be beneficial to victims….I believe housing (shelter) and language development is a priority, if you walk into an [employment] agency and don’t speak English they will show you the door.” He also explained “I believe rehabilitation is best through work, security comes with a safe home and a safe haven so people should be offered jobs as part of rehabilitation.”

He also said “The number one thing that should be provided for victims of trafficking is stable housing. I don’t think they should have to work for three months because you need time to adjust to your new circumstances, reintegrate into normal society, recover and learn how to trust people”

What Sebastian is describing simply cannot be achieved without giving victims clear immigration status and a right to basic support provisions as Lord McColl’s Bill does.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individual survivor.