Kent police arrested five people in connection with the alleged trafficking and exploitation of Romanian fruit pickers.
Detectives from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate confirmed on Thursday that a raid was conducted last Friday on a property in Chatham, in the Medway area. Four men, aged 19 to 39, and one woman, aged 41, were arrested. They were later released from custody, pending further police inquiries.
Several suspected victims of slavery have also since been taken to places of safety, according to KentOnline.
Detective Sergeant Stacey Chapman, of the Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking team, told the regional news outlet: “Victims of modern slavery and human trafficking offences are often made to work long hours for very little reward, brought to this country on the promise of a better life but forced to endure terrible living conditions and threatened with violence or deportation if they dare to challenge those responsible.”
In 2017, the National Crime Agency (NCA) warned that modern slavery was on the rise in the UK and was “far more prevalent than previously thought”.
The NCA blamed the European Union’s regime of Freedom of Movement — where citizens of member states can live and work in any other member state, with no minimum salary requirements or visas — for the rise. NCA director Will Kerr said at the time it was “definitely a factor”, adding: “Where you can move more freely… there will be gangs who will look to get involved in that process.”
It is believed that there are tens of thousands of slaves around the country, forced into prostitution and labour. While it is said to affect all areas of the United Kingdom, Scotland Yard’s head of the anti-slavery unit said in 2017 that London had become a global hotspot.
Police Bust ‘Voodoo’ Migrant Sex Slave Ring Which Forced Women ‘To Eat Raw Chicken Hearts’ https://t.co/Ch6Z5NvqTs
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) February 25, 2018
Last year saw several trafficking and slavery busts and convictions.
In June 2019, three members of a Romanian organised crime gang in Ilford, London, were jailed for modern slavery offences.
In July, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) handed out convictions for what they said was the “largest ever modern slavery prosecution” which was also “believed to be the biggest of its type in Europe” with up to 300 potential victims. Eight Polish-heritage traffickers were handed jail sentences for luring homeless and drug-addicted Poles from their home country to Birmingham to work jobs including picking onions for as little as £10 a week. The criminals had also welfare benefits from their victims who they forced to sleep in substandard accommodation.
In October, Eleonora Vasileva, Iliya Mihaylov, and Marian Vasilev were jailed for between three and 11 years for trafficking women from Bulgaria to work as prostitutes in their east London brothels.
Free movement will end after the transition period when the UK formally leaves the EU’s institutions but there has been recent uproar that despite millions of British workers being furloughed because of coronavirus, Romanians have been flown in to the UK to pick fruits and vegetables.
Last week, Breitbart London reported that the government’s Pick for Britain campaign to get laid off workers employed picking produce included job descriptions which required applicants to speak Romanian or Bulgarian “fluently”.
‘Pick For Britain’ Farm Recruiter Lists ‘Romanian or Bulgarian’ Fluency as Job Requirement https://t.co/RAo78h8aIx
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) May 23, 2020