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2013 (Narrative date)

Despite having the lowest regional prevalence of modern slavery in the world, Europe remains a destination, and to a lesser extent, a source region for the exploitation of men, women and children in forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation. According to the most recent Eurostat findings, European Union (EU) citizens account for 65 percent of identified trafficked victims within Europe. These individuals mostly originate from Eastern Europe, including Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovakia.

Mark Ovenden is a survivor of modern slavery. In an interview with the BBC, he recounts how he was offered accommodation and employment just outside his hometown in Southern England. At the time – Sept. 2009 – he had no job and was eating out of soup kitchens, so he jumped at the chance to earn some money. But things did not turn out as Ovenden expected. Between Sept. 2009 and April 2010, he moved with the family to different areas in the U.K., Holland and Sweden where he was forced to work for either no money or minimal pay. The work – taking up and laying driveways – was physical, repetitive and generally involved labouring for long hours. Ovenden, who said he had no support network of friends or family at the time, soon became completely dependent on his bosses.

Back in 2009, towards the end of 2009 like I kind of fell on hard times you could say. Erm which led to me being picked up in the street by a gentleman who promised me work, a place to live, you know three meals a day sort of thing. Sounded excellent. Er so my plan was to go work for this gentleman, save some money, get myself back on my feet. Turned out not to be quite as it had been sold to me. Er ended up moving around the south of England a fair amount.

Interviewer: You were being moved around basically were you?

Mark: Yeah. Ferried from place to place. Working 18 hour days for, at first little pay and later no pay at all.

Interviewer: I mean we often use this term slavery don’t we, and it’s a difficult term to use but at the worst moments when you were going through this is that how you felt? Did you feel like a slave?

Mark: No question. It’s definitely a form of slavery.

Interviewer: And you just felt you couldn’t get out, you couldn’t escape the situation?

Mark: There was no way. After a, up to a, up to a certain point I was entirely dependent on my boss for the thing, for money, for food, accommodation, everything like that. There was no physical way I could leave.

Interviewer: Mark, who do you think could have, should have helped you? Or do you think there was any opportunity you could’ve asked for help?

Mark: None at all. At the time I didn’t see it. I couldn’t see the police taking me seriously. Erm every time the police had visited us on worksites for example they’d treat the victims as the criminals. Erm so kind of, there was no way I was going to go to the police. Erm who else do you go to sort of thing, who’s going to believe you?

Interviewer: And when you were in that situation were you physically restrained? Was there anything physically stopping you or is it you just being to think that you cannot get out, you can’t get out?

Mark: it’s a form of mental imprisonment I would say. I was never physically restrained, I was never locked in. But you come to a point where you can not leave, where you either stay there and suffer this or you go back out into the world with nothing at all. It’s the lesser of two evils.

Interviewer: Mark, how are you doing now?

Mark: I’m doing fine now, but kind of, of my own volition sort of thing. I think that the way that the authorities have handled, not just my case but every other case that I’ve come into contact with has been horrendous, absolutely horrendous. So, I’ve got there, kind of under my own steam. There’s definitely a lot of, a lot of work that needs to be done.

As told to BBC News