Czechs recruited by Roma gangs for ‘slave’ labor in UK

The Czech police squad tasked with combating organized crime says Czechs are being recruited for slave labor in Britian by Roma gangs

Economy|Society
Chris Johnstone | 28.06.2011
Head of the ÚOOZ police unit combating organized crime, Robert Šlachta

Homeless Czechs and the young unemployed are being recruited in the Czech Republic for heavy manual work in Britain by organized criminal gangs who are pocketing vast profits from the business, according to the special Czech police squad for combating organized crime (ÚOOZ).

The new trend in human trafficking is highlighted in ÚOOZ’s latest annual report on its activities. “In the framework of cooperation with police in Great Britain, it has been ascertained that this is a growing trend, which also includes the abuse of benefits and loan fraud,” the report released on Monday said.

The drying up of demand for cheap manual work in the Czech Republic due to the economic crisis was a major factor fuelling the phenomenon, the report added. The special police squad identified Roma from the Czech Republic and neighboring Slovakia as being mostly behind the recruitment of what are virtually “slave” workers in Britain.

ÚOOZ head Robert Šlachta told the Czech daily Právo that in many cases these were Roma who had previously sought asylum in Britain and knew the local conditions and lay of the land. “They have a certain experience, for example, in dealing with authorities and local firms when looking for work and know what they can do there,” he said.

Organizers of the trafficking to Britain typically arrange all the paperwork for their workers, often transporting them by road to their destinations where they are promised work and lodging, the report outlined. ‘If they try to escape, they are threatened and can be physically beaten up.’

Once they have been put to work, their pay is confiscated with a pittance left for them to live on and not enough to escape the hold of their recruiter. “If they try to escape, they are threatened and can be physically beaten up,” the report says.

Právo said that workers in theory earning £170-240 a week for hard manual labor were being given at most £20-30 a week, with their recruiters pocketing the rest.

Fatal error

The paper said police got a breakthrough when two of the trafficking middlemen were caught when they came back to the Czech Republic on a visit. They were seized by police and under questioning it came out that they had recruited at least 10 Czechs to work in Britain.

“At the moment, we have just this one case plus the two individuals mentioned in the paper who have not yet been brought to court. But it can be expected that the number of people charged will increased,” ÚOOZ spokesman Pavel Hanták told Czech Position. He added that the police did not exclude dealing with similar cases.

At home, the ÚOOZ report said that initial fears had proved unfounded that foreign workers, overwhelmingly from Ukraine, Vietnam and Mongolia, would turn to crime or become the victims of organized gangs once their work contracts expired and they remained in the Czech Republic. “Our view is that this is due in part to the solidarity of some of these communities which do not want to draw the attention of state authorities to themselves,” it said.

Hunger for ‘exotic’ sex

The police also highlighted the role of criminal gangs in meeting an increased demand in the Czech Republic for prostitutes from exotic countries, for example from Latin America, to meet clients desires. There had also been a noticeable increase in Nigerian prostitutes who arrived in the Czech Republic on the basis of tourist visas furnished in Spain and Italy, it said. Most of the victims of human trafficking forced to work as prostitutes came from the states of the former Soviet Union, including Ukraine, and Slovakia, the report stated. There has been a noticeable influx of Nigerian prostitutes here on the basis of tourist visas furnished in Spain and Italy.

Czech women were still being trafficked to provide sexual services in neighboring Germany and Austria and more distant Switzerland, the report added.

Prostitution was undergoing a predictable evolution with modeling and dating agencies being increasingly used as a cover for the business which was also transferring more and more to the Internet. Sex bosses were also changing their ways, with less use of violence and more on ruses and other means of exploiting the dependence of victims to impose their demands. Physical violence was used by “offenders from socially and educationally deprived groups,” the report added.

Racketeering in the Czech Republic was increasingly centered on extorting money from shops, restaurants or businesses with high cash flow, which could also be used to launder dirty money. The ÚOOZ report highlighted a new trend which was to raise payments to gangs so high that the business was financially wiped out. It could then be sold onto the criminal organization and resurrected as a legal business or front for other criminal activities. Criminal gangs were also increasingly involved in the debt collection business, either on their own account or in recovering debts for clients, it said.  

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