forced labour by Emine Saner Brock talks to Emine Saner
published in RadioTimes, August 28, 2010

writer Jeremy Brock Reveals why his new drama targets the scandal of domestic servitude and two migrant workers tell their shocking story,

"Eight years ago, I met Mende Nazer, a woman who had been a slave in Khartoum. Having been kidnapped as a girl from her village in the Nuba mountains, she was brought to London, where she eventually escaped from domestic servitude. We first met in Trafalgar Square and ended up wandering around the National Portrait Gallery where, among the portraits, Mende told me her story. Struck by her extraordinary poise and integrity, I approached Andrea Calderwood, the producer I had worked with on the films "The Last King of Scotland" and "Mrs Brown". She was similarly moved by Mende's story and so the seeds to my drama "I am Slave" were sown.

In researching the film we discovered that around 14,000 people had been abducted into slavery from south Sudan with 5,000 people being held as slaves - or domestic workers as they are euphemistically described - in Britain today.

So what do we mean by slavery in modern Britain? Kalayaan, a charity dedicated to supporting migrant domestic workers, points to such exploitation as wages of less than £50 a week for seven day's work and to such controls as the confiscation of passports and employers forbidding employees to leave the house unaccompanied, as well as the threat, and use of physical, psychological and sexual abuse.

As shocking as this reality is, it's my job to tell a good story, not just show people issues. I don't like films that hide behind their moral heft - it's good because it's true - so, with Gabriel Range, our director, Andrea and I concentrated on creating the story of a daughter divided from her father and a father's search for his stolen child. In this way, we hope we have turned a potentially austere subject into a film with real emotional pull. We want viewers to recognise themselves in the protagonists and not look at them as faraway people with faraway problems. Slavery is happening here and it's happening now. "

Watch this episode now on 4oD

Latest Episode

I Am Slave (74 mins) [S]

First Broadcast: Monday 30 Aug 2010 Channel 4 Starring Wunmi Mosaku

Violence and some strong language

Mari (51) from the Philippines,1253551986,247/stock-photo-female-waitress-silhouette-on-a-white-background-37870027.jpginterview by  Emine Saner

"I have worked for several families since I left the Philippines in 2004. I was employed by a family in Saudi Arabia who came to live in London for a year at a five-star hotel. When I started working for them, they took my passport and I wasn't allowed to leave. The year we were in London, I wasn't given a single day off. I asked if I could go to church on a Sunday morning and they agreed, but they made their driver wait for me and bring me straight back after an hour.

I would be up around 6am to look after the children and take the eldest to school. As well as looking after the children all day, I would have to run errands and do jobs like hand-wash their underwear. I wouldn't be allowed to go to bed until the family did, which could be very late. They paid me around £200 a month.

They would talk about me to their friends, call me racist names - I could understand a bit of Arabic, so I knew what they were saying. I felt dehumanised; it was a horrible experience. I didn't have the courage to leave, but eventually it became so awful that I escaped. Since then I have been working for some good families, and some who treated me badly.

My last job was working for a European family in London from 6.30am to 9pm, looking after their four children and cleaning the house. I was given one and half days off a week, but I wouldn't be given it off in one go, so it was hard to get proper rest. They paid me better than some of my other employers, but they withheld the money for about six weeks. I was so exhausted from the work that I had to leave.

My son is 17 and is in college. The only reason I left the Philippines in the first place was to earn money so that he could have a better life. I send almost all my money back to him. I only need about £50 to live, to pay for a bit of travel and phone calls. My son and I speak every week but I haven't seen him for three years." (31) from Nigeria:
Interviews by  Emine Saner

"I came to the United Kingdom in January 2009 to work for a family whose grandmother I knew in Nigeria. The woman called and said she me wanted me to come to England. She said she would give me £50 a month to help look after her children, and that I could live with them and have time to get another job.

The problems started as soon as I arrived. They took my passport as soon as I got to the airport and the woman said I had to work for her for five years, instead of the two that we had agreed. We argued about it, but I felt I had no choice. She seemed to take a dislike to me. I didn't know what I had done wrong but one day she started shouting at me., calling me a bitch and that she would throw me out of the house, I was on my knees begging her to stop.

I didn't have any friends and I wasn't allowed out of the house unless it was to take the children to the park or to school. On the way to school one day, I met a woman I had seen a few times. We got talking and she wrote down a number on a piece of paper and I put it in my pocket.

I had thought that life would be better than in Nigeria, and that I could make enough money to support my eight-year old son back home so that he wouldn't have a life like mine. My life with the family was unbearable. I would get up at 8am and wouldn't finish work until 10pm. I didn't have a single day off. I had to look after one child and a baby. I cooked, cleaned, washed and ironed, and looked after the children all day. They paid me £50 a month, which I sent home.

I was scared of being deported. They told me that if I spoke to anyone outside the family, the police would find out and send me back to Nigeria.

One day in May, I had a temperature and headache. My employer said she didn't care and that I had to take the child to school. She called me later that day and told me to make food for the children. I asked her what she wanted me to make and she shouted at me, "Why are you so stupid? Can't you use your initiative? If you don't make food for my kids, I will come home and throw you out." Until then, she had always told me exactly what meals I had to prepare because she wouldn't let me plan them myself.

She came home and told me to leave, and I wasn't allowed to take anything with me. Her partner came home and they started beating me. I collapsed on the floor and they dragged me three floors down the stairs. The man called the police - I didn't know at the time that he was only pretending - and he said, "She doesn't have the right to remain in this country, come and take her."

I went out on the street and I didn't know what to do. I had been wearing the same trousers as the day when I met the woman outside the school - the only friend I had made here - and when I put my hand in my pocket, I found her number. I couldn't stay with her for long, but my cousin in Nigeria found me a friend to stay with. I could only stay with them for two months.

When I left there, I was homeless. I would have to beg on the streets to get money. Sometimes men would say they would give me money to sleep with them. It was really hard. Kalayaan has really helped me and in April this year, I took my case to an employment tribunal and I won. I haven't received the money I was awarded but my sollicitor is working to get it."
Emine Saner is a freelance journalist who has written for several UK newspapers.

Emine Saner (eminesaner) on Twitter

Kalayaan - Justice for migrant domestic workers

1 Oct 2010 ... Kalayaan is delighted to be one of five small charities recognised for our 'extraordinary work with vulnerable people'. ...


Migration must work for workers too - KALAYAAN

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