Slavery survivor feared car wash gang would kill him

A Slovakian man tricked into modern slavery, and then threatened with murder by people he trusted, is now living safely in Manchester thanks to City Hearts.

Nick* came to the UK in 2014 and found work in an Indian restaurant in Scotland. However, when a fellow Slovakian offered him a car-washing job where he could earn more money, he took him up on the offer and followed him to the north west.

“I had been expecting a fair wage and a place to live, and I had been told the hours were reasonable,” he said.

However, he soon found the reality was quite different.

The work in the car wash was long and hard, and without proper protective clothing Nick spent most of his days cold, wet and tired.

When he demanded his wages, he was initially brushed off and told it was coming. But he soon realised he was not going to be paid.

“Week after week, there was no money for me,” he said. “It became clear that I would not be paid for the work, and I felt angry and helpless.”

The more he demanded fair treatment and his wages, the worse his situation became. The Slovakians Nick was working and living with were trained kick-boxers, and threatened to kill him if he didn’t do as they said. 

 “They told me ‘you work for us now – you belong to us,’” said Nick.

As well as forcing him to work for free, they also told him to open fake bank accounts to be used for money laundering. 

“Every night they were screaming at me to do as they said,” said Nick.

“I think they were from the Mafia in my country. I was very afraid. I didn’t want anything to do with what they were doing. All I had wanted was a nice, quiet life with a job, so I could help my mum back in Slovakia, but I had ended up in a terrible situation.

“I stalled for time, telling them I was waiting for an appointment at the bank. One night when they were drinking and taking drugs, I decided it was my chance to get away. I grabbed some of the fake IDs in the house and ran to the nearest police station. I was really scared they would come after me. When I got to the police station, it was closed, so I ran to another station as fast as I could.”

The police believed his story and referred him into the National Referral Mechanism, a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking, and ensuring that they receive the appropriate protection and support. 

Nick was terrified the gang would track him down, but thanks to City Hearts, he was given a place at a safe house, as well as legitimate ID and access to medical and counselling services.

Nick also began a placement at a Co-op distribution warehouse through the Bright Future programme.

Nick said, “City Hearts are good people who helped me a lot. Just having a safe place to live and people to talk to made a big difference. I loved working at the Co-op, the people there are seriously nice, and now I have a future with my girlfriend.

“I never told my mother what happened to me because I knew how upset she would be. I still feel scared the gang might find me. But now I have people on my side, who help me stay safe.”