Coffee House

The Afghans found in Tilbury Docks remind us that slavery is back in Britain

18 August 2014

9:43 AM

18 August 2014

9:43 AM

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. On arrival, they found themselves shuttled from farm to farm at all hours of the day and night, controlled by gang-masters and unable to escape. And this is from an EU member state.

Ten years ago, 23 Chinese cockle pickers were found dead in Morcambe Bay, working for a gangmaster. These are the people we seldom hear about until they die. Even if they go to the police, they run the risk of being arrested themselves for being illegal immigrants. Britain don’t have the laws to handle Modern Slavery, and the police seldom know what they’re looking for. The laws are notoriously weak; successful prosecutions are very rare.

To her immense credit, Theresa May is midway through remedying this with the most robust anti-slavery legislation in the Western world. Her Modern Slavery Bill would give police the powers and guidance they need, but there’s something it lacks. When originally conceived, the Modern Slavery Bill had a requirement for large companies (with nine-figure sales) to make inquiries to ensure there were no slaves used in the supply chain. This lets companies know that turning a blind eye is not an option. This clause did not make it to Mrs May’s Bill, after objections from other government departments.

Frank Field writes in this week’s magazine that this is a great shame, and urges David Cameron to reconsider. Do read it.

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Show comments
  • Roger Hudson

    I seem to remember a time when there was no ‘green channel’ for people and every car or lorry got the once over by customs, we were at lot safer then. The system was ruined for commercial greed and profit. At least every big container should be opened on entry, if they don’t like the delay go somewhere else.

  • Roger Hudson

    A simple addition to the Bill should ensure that each individual worker has a contract with the firm they are actually doing the work for, agents and gangsters (a truer word than gangmaster) need to be cut out of business.
    We need to realise that like kidnapping, forced labour /slavery is up there with homicide and rape at the top of the list of crimes.

  • Hippograd

    To her immense credit, Theresa May is midway through remedying this with
    the most robust anti-slavery legislation in the Western world.

    She’s a marvel — breathtaking in intellect, vision, energy and potential to reward sycophants. But does she ever discuss why this immensely creditable legislation is necessary? We need all sorts of new laws for all sorts of old problems, like slavery and voting fraud. And some problems, like FGM and race-riots, that were unknown here before vibrancy was imported from the Third World by the ruling class to which May belongs.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    This has nothing to do with your latest head fake, the “slavery” dodge, lad.

    These are illegal aliens. They are criminals, therefore, and should be sent back immediately to wherever they came from.

    And stop with the head fakes, laddie. They’re cheap and beneath contempt.

    • Martha P

      I thought it was just me. Where on earth did dear Fraser get the idea these people are slaves? They’ve paid good money and risked their lives in a commercial deal with some immoral criminals to carry them across many safe countries and deposit them in in the land of milk and honey. I understand they claim to be Sikhs and have now claimed asylum. Slaves no. Economic migrants in for the main chance? Undoubtedly.

  • Alexsandr

    Re the last paragraph and large companies.

    That wont sort it. If Primark can get away with child labour in Bangladesh, how are supermarkets going to check their supply chains across the world.

    but there are many slaves in domestic service. Often to immigrants. How do your stop that.

  • Pramston123

    Theresa May will not give the one thing the police will need to tackle these organised crime groups effectively – more cops.

  • The Masked Marvel

    Putting a legal obligation on corporations to ensure that no slaves/indentured servants appear anywhere in the supply chain sounds good on paper, but how is it at all reasonable or legally sound that it not be extended to the small businesses (e.g. construction, building contractors, restaurants) which employ so many of them?

    One imagines the authorities would free significantly more slaves if they cracked down on restaurants and contractors than on a handful of corporations. A cynic might suppose that perhaps this wasn’t really the point of the legislation.

  • Lady Magdalene

    There’s no border between Afghanistan and the UK. They have crossed several safe countries before pitching up here so they don’t qualify for asylum under the international convention.
    They should have aimed for India where there is a large Sikh community. Why not? Because they want a decent life courtesy of British taxpayers in the land of “free everything.”
    We should provide them with medical care on humanitarian grounds and then return them to Belgium; the last safe country they crossed. The Belgians can then decide what to do with them.
    Under no account should they be given asylum or leave to remain. They entered the country illegally and are therefore criminals. And we have enough of them.

    • Holly

      That ain’t ever gonna happen.

  • Damaris Tighe

    Mass immigration has been very destructive & one of the things it has destroyed is the British people’s willingness to accept much smaller numbers of religious refugees. I’m very grateful to this country for taking in my ancestors a long time ago. In those days immigrants had to pay their own way, supported by charity – it concentrated the mind wonderfully. They were also not part of an immigration so huge that Britain became a different country.

    Size does matter.

    • TheUntalentedRiply

      But mass immigration is wonderful…just look at Fuji!

  • Reconstruct

    Let us not lose sight of the core fact: these people are, quite knowingly, illegal immigrants. For the law to be respected, they must be immediately deported back to their country once they are in a fit state to travel. Our sympathy for their plight does not over-ride the need to enforce our laws.

    • Blindsideflanker

      Indeed, they set out to deliberately circumvent and break our laws, they are criminals.

  • Airey Belvoir

    Articles like this are part of the problem. We cannot house, medicate, educate, financially support every poor sod from every corner of the globe. A hard truth, maybe, but one that has to be faced.

    • Blindsideflanker

      You might think that the Governing class would realise this, but they choose not to, as we can see by the millions of immigrants they are happy to let in when we don’t have the resources to cope with them.

      We have an establishment who have a mental dislocation, they seem unable to connect actions with outcomes, they bleat on about us needing immigrants, and get all dewey-eyed about letting in asylum seekers, then wonder why we don’t have enough houses, electricity, water, or public services, and get wallys like Cameron who witters on about the security threat that all this enrichment is now causing us.

      As Establishments go they are the most bloody useless lot, they are a danger to our country.

  • alabenn

    Slavery in which groups of men are enslaved by one gangmaster.
    This is rubbish, are these people from Afghanistan really just wimpy metro men like the sort that inhabit the MSM and politics in this country.

    They should be on the return boat to wherever they last embarked.

    • ButcombeMan

      There is very slim line between what gangmasters do and modern slavery.

      The Morecambe Bay Cockle pickers story tells us that.

      Many of the people who come here owe money to the gangs that helped them make the journey, if they do not work for the gangmaster, the debt or penalty will be extracted from or on, their relatives in their home country

  • Smithersjones2013

    What do you expect when there is a total dereliction of duty by the government in managing our borders? Is it any wonder when the Thames Coastguard services along with many others are being slashed. Does it surprise anybody when the immigration and passport departments are in complete disarray and when the government is guilty of gross negligence when its comes to securing our borders.

    Add to that a risible immigration policy that is in tatters and panders to low-skilled EU workers with no check on the European criminal classes whilst discriminating against those from elsewhere in the world in a quasi racist manner and is it any wonder?

    Slavery is back in this country because the governments deranged immigration policy has imported it. Its disgraceful which is nothing less than can be said of consecutive governments whose abject failure in this area should be a criminal offence!

    • Denis_Cooper

      Spot on.

      I saw a government TV ad urging us all to fight against modern slavery, when they are the stupid unpatriotic bastards who have created the conditions for it to happen, not those being lectured in the ad.

  • obiwan

    Where is the evidence for the claims of ‘slavery’? Why not call these people economic migrants? If they were fleeing religious persecution they could have alighted into the first friendly country – but they chose instead to continue their travels all the way to Britain. It. Doesn’t. Make. Sense.

    I can’t believe the Spectator is falling for the ‘slavery’ and ‘victim’ card being propagated by the usual idiots at the BBC.

  • Denis_Cooper

    When I put a rather pointed comment on Fraser Nelson’s article in the Telegraph the second paragraph was vaporised. It had to do with the author being a Scot and the prospect that Scotland might become independent and then he could go there and as a Scottish citizen he could urge on his fellow Scots that Scotland should institute the kind of open doors immigration policy he would like to inflict on us in England, provided only that he and those he invited into Scotland all stayed there.

  • dado_trunking

    Where there is a market, there is a way.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …the “market” consists of you socialist nutters, lad .

      …oh, and the goat .

  • Jingleballix

    Successfully absorbed??

    No. Successful absorption of immigrants stopped around 2000.

    I guarantee that all of the West Indians, Indians, Pakistanis and others who settled in Britain 1950-2000 are just as concerned about this fact…………..

    ……..except maybe the ones trying to get their ‘cousins’ in.

    Why do all the metropolitan commentators ignore this?

    C’mon Fraser tell us please………

  • sarahsmith232

    Fraser Nelson wrote that Britain has ‘successfully’ spent the last 10yrs allowing in 1,200 immigrants a day. Fraser Nelson should be aware that that is an outright incorrect statement. This country has not ‘successfully’ absorbed (think the word used was absorbed, integrated, absorbed, that kind of a word).
    – London has become a wreck because of this. Russell Group grad’s are leaving the country by the boatload because of it. Young, enthusiastic French grad’s are arriving in their boatloads, only to have their aspirations for a new life smashed in seconds. They’re all hightailing back out the country within months, they arrive intending to stay for at least a couple of years, possibly to make a new life, they’re abandoning ship within 5months//7months, unusual if they make it to the 18month mark. (Apparently a Parisian mag’ did a piece on this, I didn’t read it but read about it, tallies exactly with what I saw, they might all be leaving France in large numbers but they’re all arriving straight back in exactly the same numbers shortly after.) Then you have to sit and watch the clueless like Boris Johnson make statements like this about London – ‘they’re all sparking off each other, they love the vibrancy, they love our multiculturalism’. That was a statement made by a person that has never been around a French graduate living in London in his life.

    • sarahsmith232

      Why wont the Spec’ allow the whole of the comment????
      The comment isn’t going to make sense if the whole thing isn’t allowed on.
      Oh well, so the above was only half the comment

      • sarahsmith232

        Ok, i’m going to have another go at getting a comment past the moderator.
        So, yes, the whole ‘successful’ absorption thing. How have we ‘successfully’ absorbed this? How is house prices, rents, public transport, congestion all the rest of it, all of which has been causing our young ‘best and the brightest’ to leave the country and is also repelling the type of an immigrant that is a fantasy, an e.g of a ‘successful’ absorption?
        I have a million stories about all of this. The likes of Fraser Nelson and Boris Johnson haven’t seen the reality of this ‘successful’ absorption. I have. I was around 2 PHD students that intended to stay on but didn’t. Both shocked at the reality of life in London. My best e.g was a female engineer, she bested the lot, she lasted around 3 and a half weeks. Been around countless. Always the same story, they arrive intending to stay for at least 2yrs, to better their English and enjoy a new cultural adventure. They can’t believe how everything pans out, having to live in horror show, ex-local authority, over-crowded, nightmare environments, they become depressed, they can’t hack it, they’re out.
        70% of medical students in this country want to leave the country. It’s the reason why there’s a shortage of doctors. Russell Group grad’s leave the country. If I carry on i’ll get moderated, but for Nelson to write that we’ve ‘successfully’ absorbed these 1,2000 per day is absolutely silly. This isn’t an e.g of success. Far from it.

        • sarahsmith232

          Why can’t I just leave it?
          And another thing –
          How absolutely stupid is it that we’re having to spend stupid amounts of money to train all these doctors only for Australia/Canada/America etc to benefit from this. This is due to the effects of immigration. Then you have to sit and listen to the politicians go on – ‘if it wasn’t for immigration our NHS wouldn’t function’. IF IT WASN’T FOR IMMIGRATION 70% OF OUR DOCTORS WOULDN’T BE LEAVING THE COUNTRY!!!!!

          • GhostofJimMorrison

            Sounds to me like someone isn’t getting enough sexy time 🙂

            • MikeF

              Oi – have a bit of respect when you talk to Ev.. I mean Sarah.

              • sarahsmith232

                but shouldn’t that have been Uni. . I mean. .

                • MikeF

                  No not at all – being an Englishman doesn’t preclude an interest in the exotic…

  • Barry Obongo

    Let’s be clear: by illegally entering the UK, these people are *criminals* prepared to make their children suffer to reach the Promised Land. They should be sent back to Afghanistan and made to work for all the services expended on helping them.

  • saffrin

    “They likely fled Afghanistan seeking religious freedom”

    Yeah right. If they fled Afghanistan seeking religious freedom, how come they ended up in Britain?
    They didn’t ‘end-up’ in Britain, they deliberately crossed several save countries where they could safely practice their religion knowing full well there was one at the end of the rainbow handing out free food, money, education, health care and houses to anyone who can tell a good sob story in a foreign accent.

    • Alexsandr

      they could have gone to India….

      • TheUntalentedRiply

        At the risk of sounding hard-hearted, surely all asylum seekers should be returned to the first safe country they landed at, and there (and only there) should they submit a claim for asylum.

        If we accept such individuals, who ceased to be asylum seekers and became illegal economic migrants by traveling through at least one safe country, then we are sending the wrong message and risk actively encouraging everyone around the world with a hard-luck story to come here.

        Accepting such people is akin to giving street beggars money; it may make the smug lefties and idiots who govern this nation feel better (and even more self-satisfied) but is only increases the problem. Forget the Tories; they lack any backbone – voting UKIP is the only solution.

        • Alexsandr

          the Afghans found at Tilbury should go back to Belgium ASAP

  • will91

    Yesterday, BBC news went from the headline “The plight of Yazidi’s and Christians fleeing IS in Iraq” to the second story “Cargo container filled with Sikhs fleeing Afghanistan”. It would have been interesting if the reporter was to make the slightest effort to link these two stories. How long will people hold their tongues? How long will those in power pretend not to notice that around the world every religious minority Islam encounters either suffers/flees/dies.

    • dba_vagabond_trader

      To the point and well said.

    • Damaris Tighe

      Under the Taliban Afghan Sikhs had to wear yellow tags. Remind you of anything?

  • RavenRandom

    Agree with you about the horror of modern slavery. Though I do wonder what about Britain is so attractive that immigrants cross the entirety of the EU to get to us.

    • Barry Obongo

      Though I do wonder what about Britain is so attractive that immigrants cross the entirety of the EU to get to us.

      English as the medium in the education system, so many co-religionists already established here, the ease of establishing yet another chain of migration, enclaves that reproduce the milieu of the homeland with few of the drawbacks, but, most of all the PUBLIC TEAT.

    • DWWolds

      In a few words: the benefits system.

  • Blindsideflanker

    Slavery is back in Britain because of the incompetent State, where rather than have a functioning immigration and asylum system, it has, because of incompetence and timidity , failed to manage our borders, as a result that failure has been exploited by people smugglers.

    As for asylum , this is a rotten system, it is a blank cheque written by past generations that we have no hope of honouring in this time of mass movement of peoples, let alone the extension to our obligations that human rights judges have added.

    What is worse, we don’t confront the failings of the asylum system, because the chattering classes prefer to boast about how humane they are, when in truth what they are doing is to dangle a carrot in front of desperate people , but put as many blocks in the paths of people claiming asylum as they can.

    The asylum system is a deeply dishonest system that dishonours us all for going along with it.

    In addition, as we see in Iraq, asylum system is a helpful system to despots , who if they can be sufficiently beastly a people or political opponents, they can rid their country of them by getting them to apply for asylum else where. For despots the asylum system is an ethnic cleansing tool.

    And as for these Afghan Sikhs, why didn’t they go to the Indian Punjab, their home territory, rather than go half way around the world to asylum shop here?

  • Portendorfer

    Now just why are the sanctimonious do gooders want us to worry about this?
    Is it that they want to rack up more draconian government laws?
    We are getting back to the terror of New Labour.

  • Gwangi

    Yes but these people travel through several EU countries before they get to the UK. They WANT to come to the UK. Why? Because we stupidly advertise to the world that we adore any ethnic immigrants who wash up here, give them whole areas of our cities to themselves, free health and education, housing before native people too, and much else besides AND That we rarely if ever send illegals back.
    It is time to clamp down on immigration and to get MUCH stricter. We should round up illegals and send them back at once in publicised operations at Heathrow and Dover. We should be allowed to charge and fine other EU countries through which these illegals have passed – France, Italy, Spain, the Eastern Bloc.
    Moreover, we should change the law which at present states that if an immigrant sets foot in a country then that country has the duty to accept that immigrant’s application for asylum or residence – which can take years.
    The British people are sick and tired of seeing their country over-run and ruined. We don’t want to live in Asia surrounded by Asian!

    • Colonel Mustard

      That’s never going to happen when you have 30% of the country and most of the establishment determined to destroy any last vestige of England as it once was, wedded to change for change’s sake and pouring scorn on any dissent as wanting to “turn the clock back”, “return to a golden age that never existed”, “go back to the 1950s” etc. Look at all the furore over those Home Office illegal immigrant poster vans.

      We are unfortunately burdened with a very vocal and powerful minority who absolutely hate what this country once was and seem to want to obliterate it all in continuing acts of arrogant vandalism which they describe as “progressive”. One need look no further than Speaker Bercow for examples of the breed – and he is supposed to be a conservative. There are 257 more who plan to be even more radical if they get the chance. For an example of the weasel words and duplicitous platitudes here is the ghastly Chris Bryant on Labour’s attitude to immigration, even in his nod to the negative effects of immigration he exclusively casts immigrants only as discriminated against or exploited “victims”.

      • ButcombeMan

        I have said before here, that for reasons we can be proud of, the UK is and will be for many years, maybe centuries, a, if not THE, prime destination for economic migrants. As the world becomes more unstable (and I think the Islamist situation is a 200 year war) the pressures will only increase.

        It is clear to anyone with any sense (I exclude Cameron, Boris, Milliband, Clegg & Blair as being sensible), that the UK cannot feasibly, continue to take vast numbers of immigrants on a non selective basis and yet maintain our welfare state, our education system, our National Heath System, our Policing, our other public services, our fragile society, in anything like their current form.

        I have concluded, that the only way I can make politicians, of all parties, listen, is to continue voting UKIP, at every possible opportunity.

        I do not like Farage, I do not trust him, I do not agree with him on some things, I do not think UKIP could possibly put together a half competent government,

        UKIP is a sensible policy, desert and it lacks sufficient competent brains to put the policies together, BUT, in respect of protecting the identity of the UK and for my great grandchildren, UKIP is the only hope.

        I, and many others that I speak to, have dug in,

        • Holly

          I have no children, but I will be voting UKIP at the next election.
          I have never used my vote for ‘what’s in it for me’, but for those coming behind me, who now, more than ever, need us to grab this final opportunity, and I strongly believe there will be no other opportunity, to at least try and put right what successive governments have destroyed.
          Maybe your great grand children will be still having to clear up the mess made by Labour ‘1997-2010 and the abismal failure of the Coalition 2010-2014 to correct it, but we owe it to them to fix this so we avoid them having to fight the nutjobs here at home years from now.

        • Smithersjones2013

          I do not like Farage, I do not trust him, I do not agree with him on some things, I do not think UKIP could possibly put together a half competent government,

          As party’s support grows so it will change and with it the party’s capabilities.Do you think the fledgling Labour Party of the 1890’s was the same as the party that took power for the first time in the 1920’s. Was that the same as the party that won the 1945 general election?

          In the face of a bankrupt establishment bereft of vision and direction and you want to leave a national entity of any worth for our future there is little option but to vote UKIP .

          • ButcombeMan

            I am with you. I hope they grow in competency.

            My worry is their wider policy making process.

            • Smithersjones2013

              Well we shall see come September when they start to reveal their manifesto.

              • Fergus Pickering

                I never read manifestos. It just encourages the buggers. All governments make it up as they go along. Manifestos are quite irrelevant.

      • Roger Hudson

        British Sikhs are very rarely a problem, their behavior and faith makes islam look shabby.

  • monty61

    I’m sure those enthusiastic ‘red-tape’ cutters will still manage to be proud of themselves.

    Just like they where when Grant Shapps canned Labour’s about-to-be launched Landlord’s Registry, which would surely have made the collection of taxes from the new generation of BTL landlords (now a hot issue as some estimates suggest up to half are unpaid) somewhat easier.

    As well as life more civilised for tenants. (Though we know of course that tenants are sub-human anyway and deserve no rights, these are reserved for people with property).

    • Rhoda Klapp8

      Who’s better. People who have accommodation to let to those tenants, or people who don’t? There is nothing evil or immoral in principle about buy-to-let landlords. In practice there may be where regulations are not followed. BTLs are not wicked. Or maybe houses will drop from the sky when btl is driven out of the system?

      (Yes, some sort of registry is not wrong in principle either, except as a wedge to bump up taxes or introduce new special ones to punish those evil folks who buy houses to let to people who cannot afford their own.)

      • monty61

        No judgment on who is ‘better’ but:

        1) Landlords should pay their taxes – many currently don’t and it was utter idiocy to can the registry proposals
        2) it’s high time things were rebalanced, under current arrangements tenants are regularly treated appalingly and have very few rights. As more and more people – and more and more **kinds** of people – rent, fixing this is becoming more important.

      • saffrin

        It will be interesting to see how things pan-out now housing benefit doesn’t pay whatever the price BTL landlords demand.