Scotland's first human trafficking strategy launched

Human trafficking Image copyright AP
Image caption There were 145 potential victims of trafficking identified in Scotland last year

Consumers are to be asked to consider whether people working in their local nail bar, car wash or shop might have been trafficked into the country.

The new Scottish government guidelines are part of the country's first human trafficking strategy.

Scots will be urged to look for signs that people have been trafficked and ask whether what they are buying has been made by someone forced to work.

The move comes as figures show trafficking has increased in Scotland.

Last year there were 145 potential victims of trafficking identified in Scotland - a 31% increase on the previous year.

More than a third were trafficked into forced labour. Another third were forced to work in the sex industry.

The strategy, which will now go out to public consultation, states: "We will inform the public, encouraging them to question and reject the exploitation of other human beings and to think about how what they buy and what they do could contribute to this crime.

"We will highlight the fact that trafficking and exploitation do not only happen across international borders, but also within the UK and Scotland. Alongside this we will seek to identify those areas where victims brought to Scotland come from."

It follows revelations by BBC Scotland about increases in child trafficking.

'Trafficked to pay my brother's debt'

Kiet told BBC Scotland his brother was involved in a real estate investment which went wrong - leaving his brother owing gangsters the equivalent of £700,000. He said the gangsters killed his brother and then told Kiet they owned him. He was trafficked to the UK.

"When I arrived in [Northern] Ireland, strong men took me to a house and I was locked there. After a week I was taken to a school in the city where I learnt English four times a week.

"That was the only job I was told to do. I just went to the school and back to the house. I couldn't go out anywhere."

After two months, Kiet was taken to another house in Belfast with three others.

"I was locked at the house and I was threatened not to do anything or I would be killed.

"I didn't understand the language and when I was threatened I was so scared.

"I was brought to Scotland and arrested by police. At that time I told them I was a victim of the trafficking."

Kiet was taken to the Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre before being helped by the charity Migrant Help.

"I felt happy and comfortable in Scotland. I was given some money and now I have a place to live.

"I want to start a new life - that's why I'm learning a new language so I can get a job and earn my own money so I don't have to depend on the social money.

"I have applied to be refugee and I'm waiting for it to be approved by the authorities."

One of the main aims of the strategy is to provide more support for victims.

Figures shows many victims are forced into illegal activities with threats and violence, including being forced to work in cannabis farms.

The strategy states there is a "strong presumption against prosecution" in such cases.

However, the BBC understands that some who claim to have been victims of trafficking and have been forced to work in cannabis cultivation have faced charges regardless.

A spokesman for the Crown Office said: "Where there are concerns that an accused is a genuine victim of human trafficking, those concerns will be fully explored and taken into account when deciding whether or not it is in the public interest to prosecute.

"There is a strong presumption against the prosecution of a credible trafficked victim for crimes which arise as a consequence of the accused being a victim of human trafficking."

The Crown Office said identifying genuine victims of human trafficking was a "complex task".

'Vile criminals'

The new Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act, which came into force in Scotland earlier this year, created a new offence of trafficking with a possible maximum life sentence.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: "The number of trafficking victims identified and rescued in Scotland rose by 46% in the two years up to 2015.

"Today's draft strategy sets out the approach to address trafficking and exploitation, aimed at exposing and eradicating these crimes."

He added: "I encourage anyone who has encountered such crimes - as a victim or witness or any other interested party - to have their say and help shape our action against these vile criminals. There must be no place to hide for them in Scotland."

Image copyright PA
Image caption A third of human trafficking victims in Scotland were forced to work in the sex industry

John Merralls, UK operations manager and deputy head at Migrant Help UK, said: "Migrant Help UK welcomes publication of the Scottish government strategy on combating human trafficking in Scotland.

"The strategy establishes a clear blueprint for the future and represents a commitment to working in partnership with all relevant agencies and providers across national and international borders to achieving its aims."

Deputy Chief Constable Johnny Gwynne of Police Scotland said: "Trafficking is a challenging and complex issue to investigate, with most cases being protracted and involving law enforcement in more than one country, both in the UK, Europe and internationally.

"Trafficking is often a hidden crime and its victims frequently don't see themselves as such, therefore we proactively look for victims.

The officer asked the public and businesses to be "socially and ethically aware", adding: "If you suspect someone is being exploited and may have been trafficked, please contact us on 101."

A spokesperson for Community Safety Glasgow, which delivers the Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance service, said: "This is the first time Scotland has ever set out a strategy to tackle human trafficking and we look forward to continuing to make a detailed contribution to the crucial, national dialogue."

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