Blogs for Lent 2020: Care in an Ageing Society – Medaille Trust

When age related illness and social care issues make a grave Human Trafficking situation even harder to resolve

By staff writer, The Medaille Trust (CSAN member charity)

Retirement age is often seen as the time of life when struggles and instabilities are resolved, allowing our twilight years to be safe, secure and dare one hope, happy? Retirement age was no such comfort for one of our clients who was trafficked from Poland.

We know very little about Piotr’s life (name changed for safeguarding reasons) before he reached age 67 in Poland. Unfortunately, due to mental illness, alcohol dependency and psychological trauma, Piotr found it hard to communicate the full picture of his life and what led him into the hands of traffickers. We understand that Piotr was targeted as being vulnerable. Although he did not have much, traffickers preyed on his illnesses and insecurity to access his pension and equity in his flat, leaving him with nothing.  Having nothing of his own added to his vulnerability, leaving him wide open to the suggestion that moving to the UK would give him a better life.  The traffickers manipulated Piotr and left him destitute. With no option he followed their instructions and left Poland for the UK.

Arriving in England, Piotr was cruelly exploited. He worked in terrible conditions and lived in squalor. The traffickers confiscated Piotr’s passport and left him at their mercy. Unable to speak any English, the traffickers forced him to beg on the streets, taking the money he earned while leaving him cold, hungry and intoxicated.

Piotr suffers from diabetes and was in need of medication and was drinking alcohol very heavily, a dangerous combination. Sadly, Piotr was in so much danger while on the streets, he also posed a potential threat to others too, as his medication for schizophrenia was not being taken. It was only when Piotr was taken into hospital for alcohol-related illness and cuts and bruises to his face that Piotr’s dire situation become apparent to hospital staff. Piotr told the doctors and nurses treating him that he’d been coerced into shop-lifting by his traffickers and was living an abysmal life. The police were involved and it was clear to them that Piotr was a victim of human trafficking. Piotr was then supported through the National Referral Mechanism.

Medaille Trust welcomed Piotr with open arms and provided him with safety, care and a home. The Trust’s mission is to provide refuge and freedom from modern slavery. Medaille are the largest provider of supported safe house beds for victims of modern slavery in the UK. What started in 2006, with a house for women trafficked into prostitution, quickly grew into a national network supporting all people trapped in modern slavery – women, men and families.

Once settled in, we helped Piotr access the medical care he so badly needed. Piotr’s problems were not straightforward and a number of third parties were required to get him back on his feet.  It became evident that Piotr had suicidal tendencies and had previously tried to end his suffering. Medical intervention stabilised Piotr’s schizophrenia. He was also diagnosed with a dementia-related illness. This was a very difficult time for Piotr as he went in and out of hospital for his medical conditions and for the cruel treatment he had faced from his traffickers.  There was never going to be an easy fix to Piotr’s health problems, let alone the social issues which needed addressing. The team at Medaille Trust knew that the road to recovery was going to be long and drawn out.

With time however, Piotr’s physical and mental illnesses gradually improved and he began to think about his future. Having escaped his traffickers and with the horrors of how it all began in Poland fresh in his mind, it was natural that Piotr felt a fresh start in the UK could be the way forward. But he risked ending up back on the streets or in the hands of traffickers if he stayed in the UK.

At Medaille Trust we were able to provide him with English classes, help him access benefits to give him some financial stability, and arrange counselling.  Our aim was to get Piotr back into a position where he could make choices for himself and be in the best shape possible both physically and emotionally. As time went by Piotr accepted that going back to Poland was the right route for him. Although he could not go back to the area where he came from for safety and emotional well-being reasons, a new start in a country where he spoke the language and is entitled to his pension was the decision he took.

It is always hard when any client leaves us as there is a part of us that wants to cling on to them and look after them. It is even harder when they go back home to another country. We pray that they do not end up back in the hands of the traffickers or fall out of the support system of that country. When they leave us we provide them with connections, advice and contacts back in their home country or wherever they choose to go. In Piotr’s case we worked with an organisation in Poland to provide him with supported housing. We pray for Piotr and all those affected by human trafficking. We wish Piotr a happier life than the one he has known and we hope that he can begin to enjoy his life; a new start at 67.

This article was first published in The Catholic Times.

Any views expressed are those of the author.