A survivor of human trafficking has been granted settled status in the UK and is now able to move on with his life with more stability and hope for the future.
Stefan said: “I feel good, I feel happy – I wouldn’t know what to do without Hope for Justice’s help.”
Hope for Justice’s Advocacy team has been supporting Stefan*, who is in his late 30s, since December 2017.
Stefan grew up mostly in orphanages and later spent time living on the streets, and was exploited in Romania and Bulgaria for forced labour and criminal exploitation from 2013. He was physically and verbally abused, then trafficked to Spain. He thought his life would improve with a good job, but it turned out he had been recruited to beg on the streets and was forced to hand over any money he was given to his trafficker.
“I didn’t want to go, but he told me I had to, and I was too scared to turn him down,” Stefan said later.
He managed to escape from their control and later travelled to the UK on the promise of work in late 2017, but he was arrested at the airport for the crimes he had been forced to commit.
This made his recovery more complex, as there was still a live case against him in Bulgaria, where authorities were wrongly under the impression he was a perpetrator rather than a victim.
He said at the time: “I was shocked when I was arrested [in the UK] as I couldn’t understand why. It is clear to me now that [the trafficker] and his family set me up. I have been forced to fight to clear my good name when I was the victim in this, but I am pleased that this was achieved by my legal team.”
Lawyers at Hodge Jones & Allen helped get the European arrest warrant overturned by the Court of Appeal and his extradition order quashed in 2019. They said at the time: “Our client has been taken advantage of for most of his life, being forced into modern-day slavery and to work for nothing while being constantly threatened with violence. He fled to the UK to seek a better life but was immediately arrested for a crime he was duped into carrying out. We are pleased the Court of Appeal overturned the European arrest warrant and allowed [Stefan] to restart his life away from those who abused him for so long.”
Some of the ways in which Hope for Justice has been able to support Stefan’s recovery:
- We helped ensure he had somewhere to live, and to manage his council tax and bills.
- We have advocated on his behalf for debts associated with his time in exploitation and recovery to be reduced or wiped.
- We assisted Stefan to get new ID to be able to access employment.
- After an accident at his workplace, we referred him for legal advice and he was awarded £3,000 in an out-of-court settlement, which he used to pay bills and debts. We helped him with food parcels when he was not able to work
- We assisted him to apply for and receive Universal Credit.
- We have supported him to access health services.
- We helped him apply to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA).
- We assisted our colleagues at trafficking legal support charity ATLEU, providing supporting letters and evidence in the immigration case that resulted in Stefan recently being granted settled status (which gives ‘indefinite leave to remain’ in the UK and to live and work here, the right to access housing, education and health services, including free NHS healthcare, and to claim state benefits, where eligible).
He has received a ‘conclusive grounds’ decision, which means he is formally recognised as a victim of modern slavery under the UK’s identification process, the National Referral Mechanism.
Asked if he had a message for other people facing similar circumstances and offers that seem too good to be true, Stefan said: “Be careful who you ask for help, don’t just trust anybody who offers you help. Make sure to find the right support from an organisation like Hope for Justice and Citizens Advice, and ask them for help as they have the knowledge and expertise and will give you good advice or point you in the right direction.”
He has been represented by ATLEU, a charity providing legal advice and support to survivors of trafficking and slavery. Carita Thomas, solicitor from ATLEU, said this week: “Hope for Justice have been amazing in their work for our client. I have been beyond grateful for every single time they have helped our client and me. Hope for Justice were able to use expert knowledge of trafficking and what recovery requires to explain how our client’s needs could best be met, speaking from their in-depth understanding of the many different barriers our client has faced. Their representations as independent modern slavery advocates were essential to build the legal case and I could not have achieved any result without them.
“Knowing Hope for Justice was offering a holistic support service to assist with a number of areas not covered by legal aid, with practical remedies and signposting to other services was also very important, so our client could be safe and avoid destitution, allowing us to focus on and then get to our legal goal.”
*Name and image changed to protect the identity of the survivor