The Salvation Army has warned that economic hardship caused by the coronavirus crisis could leave even more people at risk from human trafficking gangs.
The Church and charity was one of the organisations that participated in the Hidden Harms virtual summit hosted by Downing Street on Thursday with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Major Kathy Betteridge, The Salvation Army’s Director for Anti Trafficking and Modern Slavery, told the summit that there was a 58 per cent rise in British nationals needing help from The Salvation Army’s network of safe houses and outreach workers during 2019.
According to The Salvation Army’s figures, British people were the fifth most common nationality needing the organisation’s specialist trafficking support.
“Many of these were young or vulnerable people exploited by ‘County Lines’ gangs trafficking drugs into rural areas,” she said.
Major Betteridge warned that lockdown measures could see even more British people fall victim to trafficking.
“As lockdown measures are eased and the economic impact of coronavirus is felt, we need to ensure that more at risk people in our society are not trapped in this and other forms of exploitation,” she said.
The Salvation Army has helped over 10,000 victims of modern slavery from countries around the world, including Albania, Vietnam, China, Romani, Nigeria and India.
Major Betteridge appealed to people to be vigilant for signs of trafficking in their communities.
“As lockdown eases and transport networks reopen – both across the UK and internationally there will be an urgent need to remain vigilant as criminal gangs will once again be looking to exploit and move victims between communities, regions and across borders,” she said.
“The likely destitution created by coronavirus in developing countries will lead to poverty and debt bondage, two of the key drivers which makes people vulnerable to coercion or risking human trafficker’s fake promises of legitimate work.
“The Salvation Army is urging Government to work collaboratively with other agencies, including police and border staff, and NGOs across international borders, to ensure that we limit these push factors of victims of modern slavery being exploited overseas and here in the UK.”