Police raid UK flower farm suspected of enslaving 200 migrants

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Police are ramping up efforts to investigate trafficking cases and modern slavery, with more than 500 ongoing operations, said the National Crime Agency, which is known as Britain's FBI. (AFPArchive)

The British government estimates that at least 13,000 people are victims of forced labour, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude – but police say the true figure is likely far higher.

Police arrested three men on Thursday suspected of enslaving 200 migrants on a British flower farm in what officials called one of their largest crackdowns on the modern slave trade.

The workers – mostly men from Lithuania, Romania and Bulgaria – are receiving help from charities after a raid on the farm in Cornwall in southwestern England, local police said.

“It’s certainly one of the biggest (operations) we’ve been involved in,” said Paul Coffey, a spokesman for Britain’s anti-slavery body, The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, which was last year given police-style powers to investigate cases.

Workers who say they have been enslaved and want help will receive counselling, legal and immigration advice, and housing, according to Kathryn Taylor of the Salvation Army charity.

“It is vital that all victims are given the opportunity to reflect on their experience in a safe and supportive environment, and to gain access to the assistance they so desperately need and deserve,” Taylor said in a statement.

At least 13,000 people are estimated by the government to be victims of forced labour, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude – but police say the true figure is likely far higher.

Police are ramping up efforts to investigate trafficking cases and modern slavery, with more than 500 ongoing operations, said the National Crime Agency, which is known as Britain’s FBI.

While police raids on sites such as poultry farms and food processing plants have been well publicised, this case may make the public think twice about where else forced labour may lurk, said Jakub Sobik, a spokesman for Anti-Slavery International.

“Most people will not think about slavery when they buy or receive flowers next week on Valentine’s Day,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone. “Very dark practices can lie behind such seemingly innocent products.”