South east England MEP urges people to “open their eyes” to human trafficking.

Joy Igaharo (left) and Esohe Ida-Ogabono.
Joy Igaharo (left) and Esohe Ida-Ogabono.

FOLLOWING the disappearance of two Nigerian girls from Worthing, the MEP for south east England, Catherine Bearder, is urging people to “open their eyes” and be aware that trafficking happens everywhere, and not just in under-privileged areas.

Mrs Bearder said: “It’s an issue that happens everywhere which is why I’m campaigning so much – to raise people’s awareness. I think that people think that trafficking does not happen here because it’s a nice area, but it does.”

Catherine Bearder in Worthing

Catherine Bearder in Worthing

More than two million people across the globe are affected by human trafficking at any given time according to a UN study, be it in the sex trade, or forced labour.

The crime of human trafficking involves transporting people through use of force – with the intent of exploiting them for commercial gain, and has recently been reported in West Sussex.

Mrs Bearder said: “The UK is the biggest market for traffickers. It’s not limited to towns – it happens in villages, in small market towns and wherever the demand is.”

Mrs Bearder added that although it is often prostitution that people hear about, trafficking refers to anybody who is held against their will.

She said: “It’s not just girls who are trafficked, it’s anybody who is held against their will for commercial gain. They bring children in from Eastern Europe, from Nigeria, The Far East and Africa (The Far East and Africa are the longest journeys for traffics people) to work as pick-pockets.

“Some of these children do not even realise they are being trafficked, unless they come in for the sex trade – then they certainly know that they’re being held against their will.”

According to the MEP, the reason trafficking is such a big problem, is because people turn a blind eye, and often don’t report suspicious behaviour to avoid getting innocent people into trouble.

She said: “It’s easier not to talk about it, but while the public doesn’t talk about it, it goes unnoticed. If I can do nothing more, then I just want to raise people’s awareness so their eyes and ears are open. We need the public to be aware and for them to report it.

“I think very few people think it’s really happening, and if they do, they think it’s happening in Soho and the sleazy areas.”

Mrs Bearder thinks if people are aware of the issue of trafficking, then spotting the tell-tale signs is easier.

She said: “Awareness is going to lead to this problem being stopped. If you know a house in your street has people living in it who only come out at night, and the girls living there never go shopping, and people are only seen when they’re being loaded into vans and the curtains are closed all the time, then there’s a good chance that it will be used as a brothel or something like that.

“If you see children begging in the street, which is illegal in the UK, then there’s a good chance that they will be under control. “Some things to look out for are people who are being moved about but don’t look like they’re being moved by friends. They may be inappropriately dressed for that time of day and they probably can’t speak English, and do not speak to anyone.

“If you’re being controlled you’re quite timid in your behaviour.

“If you’re aware that this is happening then you’re more likely to notice the signs.”

One of the two Nigerian girls who went missing, after coming to Worthing, was found by Sussex Police on April 12, and they confirmed that both of the missing 15-year-old Nigerian girls travelled to Spain on Saturday, April 7.

One of them was detained at passport control and was returned to the UK and taken into the care of social services.

Mrs Bearder said: “One Nigerian girl we know is safe but we do not know what has happened to that other girl or where she is. With this girl, she is being held somewhere, which will be wherever the need is. Maybe somebody saw these girls being moved into a car, but thought nothing of it.”

Anyone who witnesses any suspicious behaviour should contact the police immediately, or contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.