It’s often difficult for trafficking survivors to live a normal, independent life--and start again.
By Karolína Tobiašová, Caritas Slovakia
Our client (let’s call him Peter) grew up in Slovakia in a state-run children’s institution and then in foster homes. When he was 15 years old, he was placed in a reeducational home because of behaviour problems. He had never met his parents, siblings, or family; nobody contacted him during all this time. He was also handicapped, with foot problems that made it difficult for him to walk properly.
Peter’s character was formed in a home that was run in a style common to the Socialist era—there was little personal interest in each child, only an institutional setting with big groups of children. The institution fulfilled their basic needs, but they received no preparation for real life. They had no idea of the value of money is or even what a loaf of bread looks like, because the children had seen only small slices of bread already cut and ready to eat on the plates. Many grew up passive, thinking "somebody will take care of me."
During his stay in the reeducational home, Peter started working on a vocational certificate in construction but didn't finish it. When he reached maturity (18 years, in Slovakia), he received 22000 Slovak crowns (approx. 730 euros) from the government. There was no other support, no instructions on what he could do, and no transition phase. When he left his "home," he had no idea where to go or how to start a life.
Because he had some money, but no idea how much it is worth or how long it would last him, he went to a high-end clothes shop and bought some high-priced items. Then he went out to have dinner at a restaurant not far from his last home. Lonely and anxious about leaving institutional care, Peter met a man who inquired about his situation. When the man realised Peter had no place to go, he offered Peter a place to stay in his garage for 600 crowns per night, an extremely high price. Happy to have a solution for his immediate problem, and not thinking of the future much, Peter stayed in the garage for four days. He used all the money he had.
Then he moved to his birthplace, hoping to find his mother. In her village he found only her brother, Peter´s uncle. The uncle informed Peter that his mother was in Germany and in prostitution. On the other hand, he met a small half-brother he didn't know. In spite of Peter's own Roma origin, he didn’t understand the Roma language or the Roma way of life in the villages, so he felt lost again.
Peter stayed at his uncle's place for about 3-4 weeks. During this time, there are indications that his relatives and other people may have started exploiting Peter for their own purposes--using his ID, taking loans, and so on.
After a few days he moved to live with some other Roma people in community and to work for them. It’s not clear if had had already been sold, but from that time he had to work for them-- in their house, chopping wood, or walking great distances to do the shopping.
Because Peter was officially unemployed and didn't earn any money, he was receiving a little money from the government. This money was directly taken away by the family he was working for.
Then he met a man who offered to find him a job in Great Britain. The man promised Peter a better life –one with freedom, a good job paying good money, and better people.
Peter agreed. On the day before he left, he had to make a contract with a mobile-phone service provider – three mobile phones were bought on hire-purchase and some loans were taken out in his name. He didn't really understand what he was signing, but he was in the hands of his "saviour," so he did it.
Before leaving for London, he saw the man who "helped" him receiving money from the family taking Peter to Great Britain. All the expenses (airplane ticket, accommodation and food) were promised to be paid by his new employer in Britain and were to be repaid as he worked off the debt in Britain. Peter agreed to all these conditions.
When Peter arrived in London, a man was waiting for him. He took Peter to Peterborough, the place of his future life and work. He was supposed to work for one Roma family and to live at their place in a small room with 4-6 other men working for them as well. Right away, they took his ID, promising to keep it safe--"because many people lose their documents, so they had difficulties going back home later." Peter didn't see his ID again. He became a person without identity, with no possibility to escape.
He started to work with some other people, doing harvesting. They would work 12 to 16 hours per day, receiving poor food once per day and not getting enough of sleep at night. After working outside, Peter often had to do clean the family’s house. Members of the family started to be aggressive, threatening their "slaves" and blackmailing them.
Because Peter didn´t speak English at first, his only contact with the world around him was the family he was working for. All the money he earned went directly to the family; he had no work contract.
After doing seasonal work in fields, Peter started to work for a British-Polish company as a machine operator – again connected to the family he lived with, and earning no money. The boss of the company forced his employees to work 16 hours per day.
Peter could not tolerate these conditions because of his handicap. So to make money, the family decided to use him for begging in the town streets. Each day he had to bring them some money, so he learned how to impress people walking by so that they would to give him some coins. He remembers it as being very humiliating for him.
One day, a humanitarian organisation helping homeless people was doing street work and identified Peter as a non-voluntarily begging person. They took him from the street and he stayed at their shelter. After contacting a Slovak NGO and handling his paperwork, they arranged for Peter to go back to his homeland. Staffers from Caritas Slovakia were waiting for him at the airport.
Peter was in a Caritas programme for six months. During this period, Caritas helped him in the process of reintegration:
- with health problems (blood tests , psychiatric help, special shoes made for his handicap, etc.),
- with documents, because he didn’t have anything – no birth certificate, ID, health insurance card, or disability card
- with paperwork for benefits. As a handicapped person he is eligible to receive disability pension (which was his right also in the time of leaving foster and reeducational homes, but nobody did it)
- a place to stay with a secret address because he had nowhere to go and because his case was under investigation
- vocational certificate studies. Because he did not complete any school after primary school, he started to study at a continuation school
- financial help until his first pension came
- help with clothes, shoes
- social counselling and help
- spiritual help (upon his request)
- regular consultations and help with behaviour difficulties (in the school, in the shelter)
While Peter made progress, his personality has been shaped by his life in foster and reeducational homes and his experience of human trafficking. Used to getting help from another people and from the system, he can be passive and can blame people around him when there are difficulties. It’s often difficult for trafficking survivors like Peter to live a normal, independent life--and start again.