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Anti-Slavery Campaign: a reader’s reply

I recently came across the article about slavery in all its diabolical forms, trafficking, etc.

Do people think that this is one of those blights on humanity which only happens in far away foreign countries so while we feel very sorry about it we don’t feel too concerned or threatened? Or do you think perhaps it also happens a little closer to home? Hmm!

I can only speak for Portugal but let me tell you, it’s right on our doorsteps, people – so before we put the rest of the world to rights, maybe we should do some serious cleaning at home first.

For example, there was an article in the Jornal de Noticias on Thursday with the headline “Mentally handicapped taken to Spain as slaves”. Pretty shocking? The basic story is this. After ten years of investigation the police have finally broken a highly organised ring of criminals who deal in human trafficking, slavery and kidnapping. Twenty-three individuals (of Gypsy origin) have been arrested. The police are still looking for about twenty-four victims of this ring who haven’t been located yet. The victims were all taken from various places in the north-eastern corner of Portugal which borders with Spain, and many of them were mentally handicapped.

Picture the scene if you can. This area of Portugal is very mountainous and isolated and not as developed as the rest of the country. You have small farming communities which probably have one bus a week to the nearest market town on market day; a doctor if they’re lucky, but most often not; probably the local school has closed down from lack of pupils; all the young people will have moved into the bigger towns/cities. The remaining residents will be elderly to old with not much notion about what’s happening in the rest of the world, and some younger adult siblings – who for one reason or another haven’t moved away to find work because they’re retarded in some way or have no formal education – help the old folks out, working the land.

Along comes a smooth-talking businessman who wants to give these retarded young men jobs with a decent wage so they can help their ageing parents out with the bills they have to pay (and who probably don’t have a pension to speak of). Everyone thinks it’s an excellent idea and off they go the promised land where the streets are paved with gold.

They’re never heard from again and send no money. Why? Because they’ve been enslaved on a farm in Spain (or France) working inhuman hours for no pay in miserable conditions, and are being beaten and mistreated on a daily basis. Their papers will have been taken away on the pretext of needing them for legalisation procedures, they don’t understand the language, and the few that have escaped won’t talk for fear of reprisal. This is just one story!

There are other stories about the masses of Eastern bloc immigrants to Portugal (which is a new phenomenon because all the other European countries are clamping down). Last year a network of traffickers was smashed which entailed bringing over immigrants with the promise of work and wealth only to find when they get here, they’re just another victim of slavery.

We all know the stories but don’t want to think about them happening on our doorsteps. There must be hundreds (thousands?) of people enslaved in similar circumstances in Britain and every other European country but we never hear about it, do we? It doesn’t bear thinking about, but perhaps we should.

Have you heard of similar cases where you are? Please comment and let us know.

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