A HUNGARIAN man who worked 16 hour days at Kozee Sleep for little or no pay has said he is “astounded” that people traffickers are able to operate in modern society.
The man, who does not want to be named, spoke of his anger at those who brought him to the UK, saying they “destroy” the lives, families and destinies of others for money.
He said he felt “helpless” and “vulnerable” and like a prisoner during his time at the bed-making firm in Dewsbury. The man was promised work and told he could earn good wages in England.
But when he arrived, he was told he would have to work to pay off his travel expenses and would receive just £10 per week and a packet of tobacco.
He found himself working 10 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week, packaging mattresses and loading lorries, while living with around a dozen other people in a small three-bedroom house.
He said he tried to save what little money he was given for food but often relied on friends bringing him meals.
The man said: “This is not what he had promised us in Hungary. He said we had to work off what we earned, we had to work off the travel expenses and this had to be done in stages and, at this point, I felt deceived.
“I felt awful about this. I felt helpless. I had no acquaintances here, I did not know who to turn to, who to ask for help.”
He said he had thought factory-owner Mohammed Rafiq was a “decent” man and urged others not to believe people traffickers.
“I’m very angry with them. These people destroy other people’s lives, they tear families apart and they destroy the destinies of other people just to gain financial profit,” he said.
“I’m still astounded that this sort of thing can happen in a so-to-speak modern state where people live generally well.”
The man said he feels “discontented and angry” and unwell as a result of his experience but wants to stay in the UK to provide for his family.
“I would like to work and I would like to help my children so that they have a better life,” he said.
He called for anyone committing people trafficking crimes to be punished and said he wanted to speak out to make others aware.
He said: “I would like the truth to be revealed I would like the culprits to be punished and I would like people to know what other people are capable of doing just for money.”
STEMMING THE FLOW OF TRAFFICKING VICTIMS
Detectives from West Yorkshire have been travelling to a number of Eastern European countries in a bid to “stem the flow” of human trafficking victims brought over to become slave labourers in the region.
The county’s police force, which says the issue of modern slavery was “under the radar” until four years ago, has invested heavily in tackling the issue and now uncovers more victims than nearly anywhere else in the UK.
Low house prices and high numbers of low-skilled manual jobs have made West Yorkshire a “destination of choice” for traffickers, who target vulnerable people from overseas by promising them a better life and place them in factories and houses with large numbers of other people.
West Yorkshire Police, the largest force in the region, last year set up a dedicated human trafficking team, while a further 3,500 police staff, as well as staff from other agencies, have been given training on how to identify victims.
It is feared other forces who have not made the same investment will struggle to stop the criminal practice taking place as police and other agencies do not know what to look for.
Detective Inspector Andy Leonard from the force’s human trafficking team told The Yorkshire Post: “It was under the radar three or four years ago but we are learning very quickly about how to stop it and how to deal with it.”
The Hungarian men working for Kozee Sleep were brought to the country by their countrymen Janos Orsos and Ferenc Illes, who in 2014 were jailed for their part in a trafficking ring based in Bradford, Dewsbury and Wakefield.
One man, Robert Bodo, travelled to Batley from Hungary in January 2010 and was taken to live in a town property called Gothic House, where 40 to 50 people were living and he shared a room with three others.
Those men have since been given the choice about whether they want to stay in the UK or return to their homeland, while police investigating the trafficking ring have rescued a further 35 victims under the control of Orsos and Ilies.
It is thought that there are many more trafficked workers being exploited in the county, but most of those uncovered by police were unwilling to co-operate and had no documentation that could help the authorities.
Police say the two men placed workers into several companies in Dewsbury and Batley, and further afield in West Yorkshire, though so far there has only been enough evidence to prosecute Rafiq.
There are a number of anti-trafficking police operations currently under way in West Yorkshire, including four sizeable investigations into organised criminal gangs arranging for vulnerable people to be brought to the county.
As part of the investigations, detectives are going out to Eastern European countries such as Romania, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia to gather evidence about how victims are unwittingly recruited for slave labour in the UK.
Mr Leonard said: “There are recruiters in the homeland of the victims who are actively finding people on behalf of people in this country, so the investigations do start in foreign countries, but they do come back over here ultimately.
“We carry out enquiries not only in West Yorkshire, but jointly with other forces around the UK, and we do it jointly with other countries and other authorities. We do need to stem the flow or stem what’s happening in the countries of origin as much as anything else.”
‘THIS IS JUST THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG’
The conviction of Mohammed Rafiq for human trafficking is unlikely to be the last in West Yorkshire as local authorities get to grips with the issue, according to a former senior police officer who helped bring the Hungarian ringleaders to justice.
Allan Doherty, a former chief superintendent and divisional commander of Airedale and North Bradford Police, investigated Janos Orsos and Ferenc Illes while working for anti-slavery charity Hope For Justice.
He has since set up his own modern slavery consultancy firm and has set his sights on encouraging major firms to do more to ensure their suppliers are not basing their profits on slave labour.
Mr Doherty said: “The Home Secretary has made it compulsory that big firms must say what they are doing to stop modern slavery.
“Had that been in place at the time of these events it is possible they could have been prevented. We feel the audit process is not robust enough to tackle modern day slavery.
“We want to encourage organisations to drill down into the detail about their work forces, if necessary visit their homes to verify that people live where they say they are living and are getting the wage they should be getting.
“I feel the way to tackle this is to go to the big organisations, they have a lot of resources and if they can spot the signs we can prevent a lot of trafficking in this country.”
He added: “I think we can expect to see in West Yorkshire more convictions like this. I think this is the first of many we will see but prevention is better than cure and organisations need to take notice of what is going on and take it seriously rather than turn a blind eye.”
The former officer, who retired in 2010, said he and other Hope For Justice investigators focused their attention on gangmaster Orsos after a number of victims gave them his nickname, which means ‘the duck’ in Hungarian.
Mr Doherty said: “Orsos was the main man, he was administering the beatings, he was threatening people, he was physically violent to intimidate people and control them so they would work in bed factories for little or no money.
“When the trial was under way we were aware of even more victims who did not feature in that trial. Because of how harrowing some of these stories were, there was one man who lost his leg in an industrial accident, we pursued those witnesses and got victim statements from them.
“West Yorkshire Police then focused their attention on the manager of the factory, we knew he must have been aware that something was not right.”