Will the London Olympics mean a pot of gold for people traffickers?

Looking forward to the London Olympics? Well, it’s a fair bet that so are the trafficking gangs who force people into prostitution, domestic servitude or no-or-low-pay labouring jobs.

In less than three years’ time the athletes and spectators will be flooding into London. And, according to European Parliament research, it’s highly likely that traffickers will be alive to the “business” opportunities presented by large moneyed crowds looking for “entertainment”.

So, with the Olympic development just a mile or two away from where I live in Hackney, I wouldn’t be surprised if in the summer of 2012 I start seeing hassled-looking women standing alone at night in the lay-bys of the A12. Or new roadside burger bars on the approach roads.

The question is this. Will the sex workers have been forced into it by gang-masters who’ve actually bought them off an international criminal outfit?

Will the guy dishing out the burgers be a bloke from Bangladesh who’s been tricked, had his passport taken from him, told he owes £12,000 and made to work it off 18 hours a day for the next two years?

This is why it looks like such bad timing for the Metropolitan Police to now be considering closing its highly-regarded Human Trafficking Team. Amnesty and other campaign organisations have written to the Met’s Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson telling him not to disband the HTT. The Met is considering handing over trafficking work to the (snappily-titled) CO14 unit, basically the Vice Squad. This means a real risk of skills being lost in the handover and, worryingly, a loss of focus on labour trafficking.

Trafficking crimes are amongst the hardest the police ever have to deal with and labour trafficking is if anything even harder to detect than the slightly more “visible” form of exploitation that is forced prostitution. We need more and better policing, not less and worse.

Encouragingly there’s been a lot of media coverage of the letter to the Met today so let’s hope the country's top cop Sir Paul takes our concerns seriously.

As we’re always saying at Amnesty, trafficking is (usually) an international criminal issue and for a powerful and disturbing example of this see an article in today’s Times on how girls and women in Iraq are being sold into sexual slavery in places like Syria and UAE (BTW, for the life of me I can't track it down online, so you'll have to … [gulp] … read the newspaper, if you can still find it).

Meanwhile, I want to end on a filmic note! There are probably two outstanding films that touch on issues of trafficking. One is Lilya 4-Ever on sex trafficking (several times mentioned on this very blog!), and the other (so I’m told, though I’ve never seen it myself) is Ghosts, on the tragic deaths of the Morecombe cockle-pickers.

As it happens, Amnesty is canvassing opinion via our Twitter (@AmnestyUK) on which is the best human rights film ever made. I’m voting for Lilya 4-Ever, how about you? Please go to @AmnestyUK and have your say.

 

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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