Unseen Christmas

For an estimated 13,000 people in the UK, Christmas Day is just another day trapped in the chains of modern slavery, far from home and their loved ones.

Unseen is a charity dedicated to breaking those chains, helping to empower some of society’s most vulnerable people to become independent individuals.

This Christmas, to raise awareness and money we have created four paper chain decorations, each illustration inspired by a personal story of someone affected by slavery.

Please donate and decorate generously, and have a very happy Christmas.

Read the stories

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Asif's Story

Asif escaped persecution in his home country and arrived in the UK vulnerable and desperate for work. He managed to find a job but was subjected to labour exploitation for three years, working in various restaurants for little or no pay, sleeping on their floors and frequently receiving burns and scars, which caused him great mental and physical stress.

Thankfully, a former colleague put him in touch with a refugee support service, which eventually led him to get help from Unseen’s outreach service. The service has helped him with the practical and emotional support he needs to start to get his life back on track. This included support with securing safe accommodation, opening a bank account, employability skills, helping him rebuild his self-esteem and assistance to create a support network around him in the community.

Asif says that if he’d had 24-hour support when he needed it, “it would have changed my life. I would have had my basic needs met and felt there was someone there beside me”.

Outcome: At the time, Unseen could only offer Asif outreach support, however, the charity has now opened a new 24-hour safe-house for male victims of trafficking. It’s the first of its kind in the country and an important step in supporting the most vulnerable who’ve been exploited against their will.

NB: The victim’s name and some details have been changed to protect his identity

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Grace's Story

Living in Africa, Grace experienced the horrors of an uprising and witnessed her husband and child being shot and killed in front of her. To make ends meet she collected bottles on the street. Desperate, she accepted a promise of a better life in the UK from someone she thought of as a family friend. But when she got here, Grace was locked in a house and raped daily. She had no passport and couldn’t speak English. Her trafficker profited from selling her for sex. But one day her trafficker didn’t lock the door properly and she escaped.

Found by the police, Grace was brought to Unseen’s 24-hour safe-house, set up specifically for survivors of human trafficking. Her trauma had left her physically scarred together with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and extreme anxiety. But, with Unseen’s help she received professional healthcare and psychological support, one-to-one sessions with specialist staff and access to education and legal advice.

Outcome: Grace has now left the safe-house and joined Unseen’s resettlement service, which will continue to support her until she’s able to re-establish her life – independent and free from exploitation. She’s learning english, attending regular courses and is now volunteering in the community, working with other vulnerable women.

NB: The victim’s name and some details have been changed to protect her identity

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Manisha's Story

Born in Africa, Manisha’s mother left her as a baby and her father used to drink.

She was sent to live with her aunt in the UK who had promised to get her into a school and look after her. Her aunt paid for her to come to the UK, but didn’t do anything about getting her into a school. Instead, Manisha spent her days cooking, cleaning and looking after her aunt’s two children, working non-stop from 6am to 1am each day. She was beaten most days and once hit so hard in the head she had to have stitches. One day her aunt tried to drown her in the bath, but luckily Manisha’s screams were heard by neighbours who called the police.

On arriving at Unseen, Manisha received support to access health services and counseling, legal representation, and supported housing, in addition to help in finding a place to worship. She needed emotional support from staff and help with budgeting, accessing welfare benefits, looking for work and attending local education classes.

Outcome: She was granted positive conclusive grounds (identified as trafficked) and resettled in supported housing in the UK.

NB: The victim’s name and some details have been changed to protect her identity

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A day in the life of an unseen project worker

8AM

I start my shift. A new resident arrived overnight and, after a handover from a tired night worker, I read through the new case notes. She’s from Romania, another in a long line of Romanian women who are tricked into coming to the UK and then forced into slavery by an organised crime gang.

11AM

After our morning staff meeting, I meet our new resident for our first key work session. We spend an hour or so together looking at and discussing how she is doing, what she needs and identifying immediate risks and fears. Her story is tragically similar to others. She met her recruiter through a family member and kept in touch. She was told it was easy to find work in the UK and that education is free. The recruiter had offered to pay for her to come over to the UK and put her up until she found her feet. This girl, like others I’ve met, has never had opportunity before. She comes from rural Romania where education finishes aged 10, jobs are virtually non-existent and buses to the city even less so. Of course she decided to come. With just a Romanian ID card and a small bag of clothes, she boarded the bus to the UK. It’s a long journey. She tells me she was met by a man who then took her to a small flat in a big city. Once inside she was locked in. Her ID card was taken, she was threatened, beaten, raped and then sold. She then tells me how she escaped through the window, dropped to the ground and fractured her leg. But she still managed to run. We complete a Support Plan together deciding how we can begin to assist her whilst she’s with us. She needs to register with a local GP. The repeated rapes have left her vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. She doesn’t really understand what a counsellor is but will ‘give it a try’ because the faces of her attackers ‘keep coming for her’ day and night. She can’t go home, she says, because the traffickers know her address. They will come for her and sell her again. They told her so. I briefly explain her rights as a Romanian citizen in the UK and urge her to let us help her seek legal advice.

12PM

I ring the police investigating this latest case. Luckily, she has an amazing investigating officer who’s sympathetic to her situation and appalled at the severity of her experiences.

2PM

In the afternoon, I complete an English lesson with one of our Bangladeshi residents. This is part of unseen’s Butterfly Project, an education project designed to empower women who have known nothing but subservience and discrimination. The majority of our residents have a lack of formal education. They are brought up in poverty, with little chance of a ‘career’ or ‘life choices’, but these women are excellent students and relish the opportunity to learn. Every single resident who has come through our doors has said the same thing: “I just want to work and be safe”.

3.45PM

Before I finish my shift, a different resident comes to use the telephone to call home. She has not spoken to her family for 2 years but an international charity has helped her track down a contact number. Within minutes, she is distraught. Her father has died. He died while she was held captive, so he died not knowing what had happened to her. She never got the chance to say goodbye. It is impossible to convey the trauma that these women have suffered. I’m not even sure that they are able to process it themselves. Our house is a safe place for women for a few short days, weeks or months. But longer-term support is desperately needed.

4PM

As I make my way home, I think of the many small flats in cities across the UK and know that part of my heart will be forever dark, dark in the knowledge that there are women who are trapped, beaten and raped every day because they cannot escape.