Drita's* story of experiencing modern slavery

*Names have been changed

My boyfriend promised me a new life in the UK. He told me he loved me and I had no reason to believe he didn’t want the best for us. He sold me stories of employment at his parent’s restaurant, and I moved from my hometown in Albania to the south of England to start afresh.

When I got there, I realised it was a lie and my boyfriend didn’t love me. I was taken to a house and sexually exploited everyday for months. I fell pregnant.

I was at my lowest point, and knew I had to do anything I could to escape.

A few weeks later, I managed to flee. I received support and accommodation from a charity after being referred into the National Referral Mechanism, the system that identifies victims of modern slavery.

I received a positive Conclusive Grounds decisions, which was a weight off of my shoulders. It meant that what I had experienced was being recognised. Things had started to look brighter, but there was still a way to go in my journey.

I was given no leave to remain and moved into accommodation in London, provided by the National Asylum Support Service while I waited for an asylum decision. By this point, I had given birth. I was mentally drained from constantly moving around with no stability, and at first, when I came to London, I didn’t have any support.

As I waited longer and longer for a decision to be made, my mental health started to worsen. My mind went to dark places. I was depressed and suffering from constant nightmares and flashbacks. It took a lot, but I eventually approached a GP who referred me to counselling.

My mental health dipped further. My counsellor knew I needed other means of support and I was referred to Hestia’s Phoenix Project, in London.

The Home Office alerted me that a decision regarding my asylum status would take another six months. The wait was exhausting, and I was struggling to live daily life because of my depression. I couldn’t complete normal tasks. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I just felt empty.

Through the Phoenix Project, I was matched with a community volunteer, Donna*. She became my befriender and I started to see her every week, so she could provide me with additional emotional support. It couldn’t have come at a better time.

It was tough, and it still is, but Donna changed things. She opened up doors for me. She helped me enrol in a college course and has worked with me on my CV.

After finally receiving a positive asylum decision, I moved into private, rented accommodation. I feel like I’m starting to close this horrendous chapter in my life now that I’m no longer in limbo.

I’ve also been referred to the Bright Futures programme, so when my young daughter starts nursery, I can begin my work placement at my local supermarket. I’m so excited to be getting back to work. The Phoenix Project has helped to turn everything around; Donna has helped me to secure my immigration status, access financial support and helped me access safe accommodation. I can’t even think of where I’d be now without the project or without Donna.

Now, I’m focusing on my mental wellbeing, education and employment prospects. For the first time in years, I’m looking forward; I’m looking to the future.

Last year alone, we supported 1,135 adults and 507 children to recover from the trauma of modern slavery. This includes through our pan-London outreach service, our six safe houses and community-based support in our Phoenix Project.

Learn more about our Modern Slavery Response service

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