According to official figures the number of potential victims being trafficked into Britain has risen by 245% over the last five years.
Police and other authorities identified 3,266 people last year thought to have been the victims of modern slavery compared with 946 in 2011, a rise that has prompted disquiet among MPs and charities.
The figures from the National Referral Mechanism – a government safeguarding framework that aims to help potential victims of trafficking – reveal a steady rise of potential slavery victims over the last five years, with the single largest annual increase between 2014 and 2015 when nearly 1,000 extra cases were recorded.
Founder of international human rights organisation ‘YouCanFreeUs’ Sujo John believes more work needs to be done and feels that trafficking and slavery could be thriving in the UK.
His charity, YouCanFreeUs started fighting modern slavery in 2010 and since then has rescued and successfully rehabilitated over 120 women and children. The charity currently operates two safe houses and one training centre in Mumbai, India, and one safe house in Warsaw, Poland. As well as presence in the US and Canada where it holds regular campaigns to hold awareness via fashion, sports and arts, the charity has now started its operations in the UK.
We caught up with Sujo John, during his recent visit to the UK to learn more about his work and how he and his organisation are helping thousands across the globe.
You and your wife were both rescued during the 9/11 attacks and now your rescuing people from human trafficking. What an incredible journey. When you look back on all of this how does that make you feel?
I never thought I would be doing what I do. For one I get to travel the world doing talks and meeting all kinds of amazing people, last night I was giving a talk in London meeting very influential people. Tomorrow morning, I land in Mumbai and by 3 o’clock I’m in the red-light district Kamathipura I love people and because of what I do I get to meet people of all walks of life and you find something in common with humanity is so precious.
That tragedy that changed the world, my eyes would not be open to some of these things. Even though it was a horrible day the experience of having survived that day has opened my eyes to the realities of our world. The fact that there are so many problems with our world and our world sometimes looks broken, but my hope is that if we, you and I, people all over the world can embrace to be an agent of change. If we can change one human life then perhaps the world will become a better place.
There is a very interesting connection between me and these women. The first time I was exposed to this was in New Dehli, GB Road. They say there is almost 37,000 sex workers in that one street. My first time I thought a good thing to do was to take roses and we started handing out lots of roses. Most of them had never got a rose before; you could see the walls were coming down. They started pulling me and said “If you really care for us, get us out of here” That’s why we named this charity You Can Free US.
It’s a message from them to the free world, that those that live in freedom can do something to end this evil of our times. When I’m out there I feel my chest is collapsing. I feel out of place, it’s so hot and you’ve seen those cages 6’ by 6’ no ventilation. I feel I have something incredibly in common with these girls. I know what it feels like to be trapped. I know what it’s like thinking, I will never get out. Will I see my family again? I was given a second chance.
My personal passion is to rescue these girls and help them rewrite their lives/stories. I passionately believe this and this is what we tell our girls in our projects in different parts of the world. All things can be restored, it doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what’s happened to you. It’s how you finish your journey that really matters.
Primarily, this started when I saw the needs in Delhi. As you know Mumbai is the capital hub of India that’s where the action is, that’s where Bollywood is, the stock market is there. All the girls in villages come to Mumbai, they’re told ‘come to the city, you’ll make it. You’ll get work’ be a movie star, be a model or whatever. We rescue these girls, they come to our safe houses, we keep them for a period of 18 to 24 months and we do what’s called psycho social care. We really believe a few months can help. These girls have been through years of trauma. So, it takes a minimum of close to two years for them to really heal and us to give them a skill set to re enter society.
So we are in India and in India beyond the rescue and life skill training, psycho social care and re-entering society. We also do awareness programmes. We’ve done things with fashion. A few years ago, through fashion we told the story of trafficking. We do different awareness events in India. Last week I did a talk about how businesses and society can get involved in this fight. In India, it’s not just your sex trafficking, there’s a huge component of labour trafficking. Where kids are forced to work, brick hills or factories or something like that. Awareness is a big way of fighting this.
We also have a curriculum that we have almost finished writing. It will be launched and be taught into 125 schools in India. Boys, girls and parents. To parents we challenge them, when your children hit puberty, have conversations about sex. Boy’s we teach about when buying sex what’s going to happen to you emotionally and physically. Men and women are preyed on equally. Men are called protectors and cherishes of women. And to the girls we teach them what’s a good touch and bad touch, how to know who is a predator.
We also have a similar operation in Poland, we have a safe house and training centre and what we do there is similar. This problem of human trafficking is a global problem. Affecting 161 countries in the world. The root causes of how the girls end up there is the same. In Poland, we rescue Eastern European girls, Poland is a transit country, they’re taken to different parts of Europe. Interestingly many girls from Poland are brought to UK. They’re offered jobs here, told, come to the UK we’ll find you employment and unknown to them they’re being sold here in this country.
In the UK we only got started a year and a half ago. London is such a global city and I also know your newspaper speaks a lot to Asians. The Indian community does so well in this country and they are thought leaders of this country. For me also being of Indian origin and now I live in the US. I look at this community and say much is given much is expected. We have a responsibility to give back to the country we were born or our fathers and mothers were born there. That’s our motherland.
In India people look at the movie world, look at the business. The sad part is the incredible dichotomy; there is a lot of social evils in that country. If fact when you look at the numbers of modern day slavery close to half of the modern-day slavers are in India. So I passionately believe those numbers have to change. That’s why we are in the UK, as it’s a global city we want to build an organisation here to help us reach out globally. Right now, we are looking at initial partners in UK. Last night I met some influential people here in London. Different people from different walks of life and come together with their talents can make a huge change.
So those of us living in freedom have a responsibility to make a difference thought our talents, our resources, our finances. I know this is a paper that reaches out to the Asian community and I always challenge them. We have to raise our boys and girls, especially our boys to respect women.
So, what can our readers do to help your cause and charity?
Well our biggest need is finances; they can follow us on social media and connect with us. I often tell people, tell us how you want to be a part of it. If they want to go to Mumbai and they feel this is the right fit maybe we can arrange for some of them to go on our projects. Sometimes it’s just to go love these girls, love to hug, change a life. We do events in the Red Light distract. This week I’ll be in the red light district in Mumbai we hand out gifts and we become advocates for these girls. We encourage them to get out. We do Christmas parties in the red-light district in the holidays to bring cheer.
Reach out to us, we want to know your story and how you can help us. If there are things happening, where women are being victimised then good people need to speak up against it. I think the biggest challenge is for mothers and fathers to raise our boys, so that they grow up respecting women. This has to end, for me as an Indian, sometimes I’m embarrassed when you look at the numbers for global human trafficking we’re almost half way there and it’s got to change. We talk about India as this growing economy, everything going so well, but what about some of these social evils in our country. Poverty, the curse of poverty has to be broken we have to educate our boys and girls. And then we have to protect our women. It’s hard to understand how, in a country where we have had a a female prime minister, female politicians and business leaders and female goddesses are worshipped in India, yet it is one of the most dangerous county in the world, most crimes against women happen every single day in India than any other country. I think this is a justice generation and I think if we can inspire young people to take a stand against this I think we can turn the tide. We have to start when they are young and deal with the root cause. We go rescue these girls and made a difference to their lives.