London: The Indian High Commission here on Friday appealed for students to contact the mission for help and counselling amid fears that over 50 of them may have become victims of modern slavery while working at care homes in North Wales.
The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), a UK government intelligence and investigative agency for labour exploitation, reported earlier this week that it had succeeded in getting a court order against five individuals for labour abuse.
The GLAA said it has identified "more than 50 Indian students as being potential victims of modern slavery and labour abuse over the last 14 months" in relation to the case.
“We were concerned to read this news. Indian students who have suffered this, please contact us at email@example.com, and we will provide help/counselling. We assure you of confidentiality in our response,” the High Commission tweeted.
Five people - Mathew Issac, 32, Jinu Cherian, 30, Eldhose Cherian, 25, Eldhose Kuriachan, 25, and Jacob Liju, 47 - are suspected of recruiting and exploiting vulnerable Indian students working in care homes across North Wales and have been handed a Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order (STRO).
All five, originally from Kerala, were arrested by GLAA between December 2021 and May 2022 and while investigations remain ongoing, there have been no criminal charges brought against them at this stage.
They are said to have links to care homes in Abergele, Pwllheli, Llandudno, and Colwyn Bay across the region, either by working there themselves or having a direct family link to someone who works in them.
GLAA said Issac and his wife Jinu Cherian also supplied workers through Alexa Care Solutions, a recruitment agency registered in May 2021.
Reports to the Modern Slavery and Exploitation Helpline three months later claimed that Indian workers employed by Alexa Care were not being paid correctly or were having their wages withheld.
Significant concerns were raised at the same time about the workers' appearance and that they always appeared to be hungry, the agency revealed.
“We are all aware that staffing levels have been a cause of concern in the care sector for some time, and have not been helped by the COVID pandemic,” said GLAA Senior Investigating Officer Martin Plimmer.
“Unfortunately, where labour shortages exist, there is an increased risk of opportunists using the situation for their own financial gain, usually at the expense of workers that they are exploiting.
"Tackling the exploitation of workers in care homes is one of the GLAA's top priorities, and this order is crucial in restricting the activities of those we suspect would otherwise commit slavery or trafficking offences,” he said.
The STRO comes with a series of stringent conditions on the accused, including preventing them from arranging work, transport or travel for anyone and allowing the GLAA access, at any reasonable time, to where they are living to establish and confirm that the order is being complied with.
Breaching the order is a criminal offence, carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
“Through our investigations, we have concluded that such an order is proportionate to protect further workers from being potentially exploited and abused,” added Plimmer.
The GLAA said it had worked with Care Inspectorate Wales and other relevant local authorities over the course of the investigation.
Under UK and international law, modern slavery is seen as a serious crime where victims are exploited, controlled or held captive, and threatened or punished to stop them from escaping or reporting the crime.
According to British police, modern slavery includes human trafficking when victims are taken between countries or around a country so they can be exploited. PTI