NEWS: Asian Slaves in UK

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Jyothi Kanics (jkanics@igc.apc.org)
Mon, 27 Apr 1998 06:15:04 -0700 (PDT)


Revealed: the Asian 'slaves' who can be bought for 7,000
by Yvonne Ridley

ILLEGAL immigrants can be bought for 7,000 as part of an international
slave trade worth millions of pounds. It involves the large-scale smuggling
of Asians to Britain, a Sunday Times investigation has revealed.

The racket is run by a network of traffickers based in London, Frankfurt,
Ukraine and Delhi. They smuggle thousands of illegal immigrants into
Britain for specific employers who pay between 3,000 and 7,000 for them.
In turn, the immigrants pay up to 5,000 to work in Europe.

Last year the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) set up a
special squad to target the illegal trade. "These organised crime groups
have moved into slavery because they can make massive amounts of money," a
spokesman said. One group investigated by The Sunday Times is understood to
have smuggled more than 200 people out of India since the start of the year
in deals worth an estimated 2m so far.

Posing as a London restaurateur, a reporter approached the gang wanting to
buy immigrants as cheap labour. After meetings in London and Birmingham
over a six-week period, the reporter was introduced to a man who offered to
supply 10 Indian workers for 70,000. The young Asian man, known as
Krishan, said he would guarantee that the men would labour for two years
working 12 hours a day for seven days for 70 a week. This works out at an
hourly rate of under 1, more than four times less than a McDonald's
restaurant employee earns.

The reporter was told that workers were immediately available in Germany
and France. The meetings were conducted in strict secrecy and in the
presence of armed bodyguards. One gang member explained that vigilance was
high because a senior gangster had been questioned by the police about his
suspected involvement in an illegal human "shipment" last month.

Balwant Singh (not his real name) is a 26-year-old Indian. Along with 95
others, he was smuggled by the gang from Delhi to Britain three months ago.
Singh, the eldest of four children, paid 5,000 to have the chance to work
in Britain. He raised the money by borrowing against his family's acre of
farmland and using his mother's 500 life savings.

"Arranging the trip was the easy part. There are lots of agents who are
willing to put you in contact with the right people," he said. His six-week
journey to Britain took him through Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Germany,
Belgium and France.

He gave the gang's local agent his Indian passport and arrangements were
then made for him to fly to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.

Once out of the airport, he and about nine others were packed into a secret
compartment under a tourist bus for the 300-mile journey to Minsk, the
capital of Belarus.

"I was very frightened," he said, "because I could see the road in between
the gaps. We were all sweating and almost suffocating but too afraid to
shout out in case the authorities got hold of us."

The next 22 days were spent in a series of safe houses in Minsk and various
parts of Poland until they reached the German border.

"We had to wait three days until the right German officials who took bribes
were on night patrol. We ran across the border in groups of 10. The night I
crossed, there were more than 200 waiting with me." Most of the migrants
then regrouped in Frankfurt, although Singh says some went to Berlin.

"When we got to Calais I and another man were put in the boot of a car and
went over by the ferry. The driver and passenger were both English women.
They let us out for a stroll round the deck.

"Some of the others went in a furniture van through the Channel tunnel.
They said the whole journey only took them 30 minutes - they were lucky.

"As we approached Dover we jumped back in the boot and I could have sworn
someone in a uniform saw us.

"My fellow traveller must have felt the same - he retched a few times and
the stench was terrible.

"We got out of the boot by a side road some miles from Dover. The woman
driver was really annoyed with the mess. We waited in silence for our new
employer to collect us. He arrived in a windowless van. When we jumped in
there were six others who had also come over on the ferry hiding in a
secret place in a van."

Singh, who cannot speak English, was taken to a warehouse in east London
where he makes 30 a week after rent deductions are made from his pay of
120. "Our boss is also our landlord and we all live in the same house. It
is a bit cramped. Now I just work to pay off the family debt."

About 18,000 illegal immigrants were discovered in Britain last year, but
the full extent of the trafficking remains unknown.

"We are deeply concerned about the increasing number of organised crime
groups who are moving into the smuggling of immigrants," said a spokesman
for NCIS. "They are exploiting vulnerable individuals and causing human
misery."

Copyright 1998 Times Newspapers Ltd.


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