Anti-Slavery Day: Read How M Overcame The Trauma Of Trafficking To Become An Advocate For Those In Need

 “There was a lot of physical abuse. I was only given food once a day. I wasn’t paid a single penny. ‘People ask me why I didn’t just leave’

There are more than 100,000 victims of trafficking and modern day slavery in the UK, and while many are physically held against their will, it is the mental coercion, control and abuse that keeps many others enslaved and exploited.

Imagine being promised a new life in a new country, but then being trapped and abused by the people supposed to take care of you.

That’s what happened to M, a young man from Bangladesh who was forced to work for free in his father-in-law’s restaurant, assaulted and abused when he complained, and threatened with not being able to see his baby son if he left.

A young man trafficked to the UK as part of an arranged marriage, has spoken of his desire to help others, following his experience of abuse and slavery at the hands of his new family.

M, originally from Bangladesh, but now living near Newcastle, was promised spousal documents and a chance to live in the UK. However, once the marriage had taken place and the couple were expecting a baby, the family turned on him, demanding money and land in exchange for his visa and access to his son.

“Like anyone, I hoped for a decent family life,” said M. “But before I could move to the UK, my wife stopped contacting me and her parents threatened to cancel the visa documents. They forced my parents to re-mortgage their home so I would be allowed to see my baby.”

Instead of continuing with the paperwork M needed to live legally in the UK, his father-in-law made him travel to Belgium, where he was hidden inside a dark box in a lorry for the 21-hour journey to England.

“When I was dropped in Dover, my father-in-law was waiting,” said M. “They took my phone, documents, money, everything. But I got to meet my baby son for the first time.”

M was then forced to work in his father-in-law’s restaurant for 14 hours a day. 

“There was a lot of physical abuse from my father-in-law and wife,” he said. “I was only given food once a day and I wasn’t paid a single penny.

“When I spoke to my family in Bangladesh it had to be on my father-in-law’s phone in front of him. He threatened to call the police if I complained. He said I would be arrested and deported for being here illegally, and that I would never see my son again. There was a lot of mental trauma and I still have the physical and psychological scars.”

After several months, M found a phone at the restaurant and used it to call a friend for help, who told him that what he was experiencing was modern day slavery, and gave him the number of a help line.

“My wife’s family were still demanding that we hand over our land in Bangladesh, and one night, my (now ex) wife attacked me, leaving my face bleeding badly. The violence, the mental trauma, was literally unbearable. I called the helpline, who contacted the police.”

When the police arrived, the family denied M was there, but he managed to attract their attention through a window, and was rescued and later supported by City Hearts.

“City Hearts helped me in my journey tremendously,” he said. “My case worker was always there for me. But being a man and a victim of modern slavery is hard,” he added.

“People ask me why I didn’t just leave. But I at the time I felt like I didn’t have a choice. I had to accept it as I didn’t have documents and couldn’t work. And I didn’t want to leave my child.”

A traumatic journey through the family courts to get access to his son followed his escape, as well as the pain of seeing the criminal case against his former father-in-law dropped.

However, despite his ongoing slog through the asylum application process, M is optimistic about the future, and is determined to advocate for the rights of vulnerable people.

He has already successfully won a legal battle against the Home Office to overturn a ‘study ban’ on asylum seekers and is currently studying law at Northumbria University. He volunteers in the community and has won the National Societies and Volunteering Award. 

“Education is so important,” he said. “This vulnerable group of people should be given access to education so they can do good in the community. When I think about what to do with my life I think of my mother. She was my everything and she encouraged me to help people. To help my community. And that’s what I’ll do. I will study the law and I will be their voice”. To find out more about M please visit his blog- www.abirking.com. 

Phil Clayton, Head of Innovation, said: “Many people don’t escape slavery situations because they’re afraid they’ll be hurt or their families will be hurt. Some people believe they owe their captors a debt or are spun a web of lies so they believe that what they are experiencing is normal or ok. As well as physical abuse, others are abused psychologically- they’re told the police will deport them, or arrest them and they’ll be sent to prison.”

City Hearts CEO, Ed Newton: “People are trafficked into sectors which rely on casual labour. You might see them every day, working in roles that make your life easier, and not realise their plight. They are visible, yet invisible.

“The food you eat could have been picked or cooked by slave labour. The clothes you wear could have been made or packed by trafficked people. Be vigilant, be brave and report anyone you think could be in danger.”