I escaped from modern slavery: a Croydon resident’s story

By - Friday 13th October, 2017

The disturbing account of the events which led Charlotte Smith to join the Croydon Community Against Trafficking

I am a member of the Croydon Community Against Trafficking, supporting its work helping victims of the international trade in people. Modern slavery happens in Croydon and affects people in Croydon, not just those from other parts of the world who come here, but also British nationals. I would like to see increased awareness of this.

I also have a very personal reason for belonging to CCAT: my own frightening experience of human trafficking.

In 2014 I travelled from Croydon to Nigeria to take up a post as a tutor, something I initially saw as an exciting opportunity to live abroad and gain experience working in an educational role with children. I was happy to be offered the job, but once I arrived in my wealthy employers’ home in Lagos, I quickly became worried by the situation I found there.

I was not aware of the true meaning of ‘trafficking’ at this time

During my first day, I noticed an unkempt housemaid who worked long hours and didn’t speak either much English or the local Nigerian language, Yoruba. We shared a name and I was immediately endeared to her. One of my employers told me that she paid not the housemaid herself, but the girl’s aunt who lived in Ghana and who she suspected was her ‘trafficker’. While this news worried me, I was not aware of the true meaning of trafficking at the time. But the housemaid’s mistreatment quickly became more apparent.

My employers told me stories of beating her and punishing her when they suspected household items had gone missing. She was very timid and malnourished. Her living arrangements were hidden from me but I once found her curled up asleep on the floor in one of the living rooms downstairs. However, I could hear her sweeping and cleaning from the early hours of the morning.

Armed security guards came to ‘collect my passport’

It was made apparent that my own civil rights were not going to be upheld when I was repeatedly asked by my employers to give them my passport. I had been instructed by the Nigerian embassy in London before travelling not to give my passport to anyone. However, a few hours after my arrival I was visited by two armed security guards who came to ‘collect my passport’ when I was at the house alone. I complied.

I was left to eat alone every evening and could only leave the house under the instruction of my hosts. I was repeatedly told that if I went out alone I could put the child I was responsible for at risk and as his well-being was paramount I could only go where they needed me to go, when they needed me to go there.

My family put pressure on my employers by ringing them day and night

UK legislation defines people smuggling as ‘the procurement, to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a state party of which the person is not a national’. Although I was not aware how I was to be exploited, it became apparent that I had been smuggled. I had left England with no job and no money. I hadn’t taken a copy of my travel documents and did not speak the local language.

I called home and my family put pressure on my employers by ringing them throughout the day and night. I told my family where I was staying and relatives prepared to come to Nigeria to get me. That evening, I was summoned to a meeting with my employers who told me I was a nuisance. At six o’clock the next morning I was told a car was ready to take me to the airport. On leaving, I was handed my defaced passport. Airport officials said they would have refused to let me travel had my passport been Nigerian because of the condition it was in.

When I returned home to Croydon, I joined CCAT so that I could make others aware of the realities of human trafficking and smuggling. I want to let people know that trafficking does not only affect refugees or migrants, but British nationals such as myself. While not all the CCAT volunteers share my story, many empathise, and have experienced or encountered victims of human trafficking. All are advocates of eradicating human trafficking.

To find out more about the work of the Croydon Community Against Trafficking, click here.

Charlotte Smith

Charlotte Smith

Charlotte Smith is a Croydon resident and member of Croydon Community Against Trafficking. Charlotte Smith is a pseudonym.

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  • Anne Giles

    What a frightening experience!

  • Andrew Dickinson

    Thank you for sharing your horrible experience. I hope that the housemaid found a way out to a better life but somehow i doubt it.

  • Peter Cox

    Hi Charlotte, Thank you so much for sharing your story. Your brave action can only help other victims who may be too scared to come forward at the moment. CCAT is a wonderful organisation and anyone else reading this is welcome to become a member to help the charity in its campaign to eradicate trafficking/modern day slavery. Just go to http://www.theccat.com Best Peter

  • Rosie E

    Charlotte I had no idea this was even possible, but reading your account it makes so much sense. Thanks goodness you could contact your family and your passport was allowed through albeit grudingly. Very many thanks for sharing your story.