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Tilbury Docks: An All Too Familiar Scene

22/08/2014 13:21 BST | Updated 22/10/2014 10:59 BST

The story of the 35 people found in a container at Tilbury Docks is not about illegal immigration. These are human beings who seem to have been caught up in the world wide criminal phenomena of modern day slavery. A horrendous trade that is now set to eclipse the drug trade in revenue sources for those who profit and deal in the lives of people desperate for a chance in life, a new beginning, the hope of being treated equally, the dream of a job, of a day without violence or of a life without war.

We only tend to hear about stories like this when the worst has already happened. That's when you feel bad, that's when we say "What a pity. Imagine being trapped in a container for 18 hours?" and with good reason. These are people, these are lives. The problem is that we tend to forget that these are lives when we're told that millions of illegal immigrants want to come over and take us for everything we have, our education and our benefits. Our attitudes seems to change then. But it's worth bearing in mind that more people than you are aware of, through no fault of their own, are trafficked to the UK and are generally forced to endure a life lived under the radar comprising of back breaking work for a very low wage, if any, loneliness, abuse and discrimination.

But this is by no means an isolated incident. In 2000, 58 Chinese people were found dead in a lorry in Dover. In 2002 two young Ghanaian boys were found dead in the undercarriage of a plane. It was only on Monday that police rescued 20 victims of trafficking in Northern Island who were probably being exploited as low paid workers in the food industry.

Slavery is not an issue confined to history or a problem that only exists in certain parts of the world - it is something that is still of great concern and is still happening today. It is a worldwide problem and the UK is not exempt. Recent research conducted by the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply showed that 11% of UK businesses surveyed thought it likely that some sort of modern slavery exists in their supply chains. Now, 11% may seem like a small amount but until that number is 0, it will always be entirely too high. There had been 1,746 cases of modern day slavery reported in the UK in 2013 alone, a 47% rise on the number of cases reported in 2012. And these are just the ones we know about because the whole idea of slavery is that it remains hidden, it has to remain a secret in order to function. I say we start raising our voices a little bit louder.

It is early days but the 35 people, 15 families including thirteen children, may well be victims of this pernicious evil, not illegal immigrants. Let's hope they are treated as such and given every protection from the state and support from the community. Let's also hope that we don't have to wait until the next tragedy to really do something about this.