18 October 2023

Albanian survivors of modern slavery want to see their exploiters brought to justice, however many never report the crimes they have experienced due to fears of being found and re-exploited, according to a new report by Hestia.

In our latest Underground Lives report, we surveyed 119 Albanian modern slavery survivors and found that 74% wanted the criminals who exploited them to be prosecuted, but only 46% had reported the crime to the police.

In 2020, the National Crime Agency estimated there to be at least 6,000 – 8,000 criminals involved in modern slavery that year*. Despite this, there were only 344 prosecutions and 56 convictions for modern slavery offences that year**.

Evidence from victims is key to increasing successful prosecutions, yet the majority hear nothing more after having taken the brave step of going the police. Of the Albanian victims surveyed who had reported their exploiters to the police, only 22% said they had received any update on the investigation afterwards.

Hestia is the leading provider of modern slavery support in London and the Southeast, supporting 2,800 survivors in the last year. The charity has been supporting survivors for over a decade – both in safe houses and in the community.

The Government’s focus has been on ‘stopping the boats’, however only 8% of the Albanian survivors surveyed had arrived in the UK by small boat.

Patrick Ryan, Chief Executive of Hestia, said:

“If we want to break the cycle of modern slavery and support survivors, we must be tough on the highly organised criminals who exploit others for their own financial gain. The government’s approach of detaining and deporting victims will not discourage the criminals, but it will make it even more difficult for victims to cooperate with criminal proceedings, thereby further reducing the likelihood of prosecutions.

“As our new research shows, a crackdown on small boats will also not deter the traffickers. Instead, they will use the provisions of the Illegal Migration Act as a threat to keep victims enslaved. Their confidence may even be bolstered by the message that should their victims escape, they will be deported back to Albania where they can be easily located and re-trafficked.”

One of the victims featured in the report said:

“I tried asking for help from the police here in the UK and no one believed me. I don’t feel safe anywhere, I stay in the safe house all day, and don’t go out as I can’t trust anyone – I only go out to buy anything when its dark. If my exploiters found me before, they could find me again in Albania and exploit me again.”

The report also recommends that the Government should urgently re-evaluate its designation of Albania as a ‘safe country’, specifically for victims of modern slavery. Less than 1% of the victims surveyed believed they could be safely returned to Albania – most commonly due to their fear of being found by the criminals that exploited them, and the resulting threat to their own and their families’ safety.

One expert with police background in anti-drugs law enforcement said:

“Albanians probably have more to fear than most when it comes to returning to a home situation. Albanian [organised crime] groups have a reputation for being extraordinarily unforgiving and violent which has credence… If an Albanian victim says ‘I can’t go home because if I do, this is what’s going to happen’ then that’s probably worth listening to.”

Another victim featured in the report was returned to Albania, only to be re-trafficked:

Very soon after arriving back in Albania I was found and harassed, abused and tortured by men connected to the moneylender. They told me that I had a month to pay… As I was unable to repay the debt quickly, they trafficked me back to the UK under their control. They threatened to kill me and my family if I tried to escape or told anyone about the journey.”

Other recommendations in the report include:

  •         The Government to honour the promise made in Parliament to protect victims of modern slavery who have been exploited in the UK.
  •         The new Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner to make trauma-informed victim identification and support a fundamental principle in the approach to tackling modern slavery.
  •         Demographic data about modern slavery in the UK to continue to be recorded and made publicly available.
  •         The Government to measure the impact of the Illegal Migration Act on incidence of re-exploitation.

Read the full Underground Lives report

*National Crime Agency (2021) National Strategic Assessment of Serious and Organised Crime https://www.nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/who-we-are/publications/533-national-strategic-assessment-of-serious-and-organised-crime-2021/file   

**Centre for Social Justice (2022) A Path to Freedom and Justice: a new vision for supporting victims of modern slavery. https://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/CSJ-JC-A-Path-to-Freedom-and-Justice-a-new-vision-for-supporting-victims-of-modern-slavery-single-pages.pdf