How seriously should we take modern slavery? To some, the very phrase sounds hysterical: slave markets are seen as something belonging to 18th century Jamaica (or present-day Mosul) but not modern Britain. It’s true that slavery has mutated, but it’s very much still with us – which is why, at 6.30am on Saturday, screaming and banging could be heard from a cargo container offloaded from a P&O boat in Tilbury Docks in Essex. It was found to contain 35 Afghan Sikhs, including 13 children. One adult died from dehydration.
The facts of this case are still being established, but it fits a grim pattern. They likely fled Afghanistan seeking religious freedom: Sikhs are subject to hideous discrimination there, in spite of the warm noises made in Kabul. Could they have come to Britain and been granted refugee status, under the 1951 Convention?
Unlikely – there a staggering 2.6 million Afghan refugees who are not exactly flooding back to a newly stabilised country. Last year, Britain granted refugees status to just 172 Afghans and threw out 594 supplicants. By comparison, we let in about 1,200 immigrants a day. As I wrote in my Daily Telegraph column last week, Britain is disgracefully squeamish about offering asylum to religious refugees, even those fleeing persecution that can be traced back to a British invasion.
Perhaps the Afghans paid for this journey up front, hoping for a new life in Britain. More likely they had agreed to pay for their journey by doing some work for a gangmaster when they arrived. If so may well have found, as so many others have, that the repayment never ends and that their have entered indentured slavery. And they’d likely have appalled at the actual nature of their passage (the video, below, shows the moment they were released)
Last year, for example, police found a group of Lithuanian men who had agreed to pay £350 for passage to Britain and the prospect of employment: they would repay the sum through their earnings.