Slavery in Britain

Every morning this week I have read a transcription of someone who has been trafficked to Britain – a verbatim account of their experiences.  As someone who spends a lot of their work time either creating or analysis verbatim accounts this is familiar territory. But my country is no longer familiar territory as familiar place names are mentioned as locations for squats, dodgy building jobs, safe houses or massage parlours. This morning’s interviewee was still paying off the travelling debts of his brother who suffocated (with 57 others) in a container crossing the Channel on the last leg.

I shall be looking at the staff at Chinese takeaways with different eyes wondering how long they have been working that day.  I have said this before but what we need is a Charles Dickens to stitch the diversity of the stories of the people who live in this country into a new Bleak House.   I have 3 abiding impressions:  the diversity of the people who are coming here – from professionals who have considerable skills to those who can barely understand how to move around a city and are dependent on others for almost everything. Secondly  the role of technology – which allows people to make mobile calls back to their families to raise finance for the next stage of their migration.  And finally the behaviour our immigration service, police, legal people and not for profits who are compared very favourably with the government officials, police and soldiers from the countries the migrants have come from and on the way.  Our system is relatively straight and people on the strengths of these interviews are basically decent. Something to be a little proud of.

The rest I am not at all proud of. It has become evident to me that while we may publically repudiate slavery our way of life is wrapped up in cheap goods and services and we need cheap labour to deliver that to us. Regulate it all you want the traffickers will continue to bring men women and children here to satisfy the demand.

The book is called Enslaved by Rahil Gupta. As a postscript to this here’s a link to an account of an anthropologist who identifies migrants who have died crossing the Mexican border into the USA. By their belongings because the bodies are unidentifiable. Now there’s a practical use for anthropology.

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