Promising him a good job and a better life

Slavery in Scotland.

Abul Kamal Azad went to work at a remote hotel in the Western Highlands. He thought he’d been given a job in London.

When he called his new employer from the airport, he was told the plan had changed. He was to take a coach to Glasgow, then another bus to a place called Ballachulish in Lochaber in west Scotland.

Used to the clatter and commotion of Dhaka, he found the isolation disorienting. He was met by Shamsul Arefin, the man who had arranged for him to come to the UK, promising him a good job and a better life. Arefin drove him the last leg of the journey, and at last he found himself standing on the side of a hill in a remote corner of the Highlands, staring up at the dark windows of the hotel. He felt the first stirrings of fear.

It sounds like a Gothic novel, but it was real. He’s answered an ad in Bangladesh –

The advert led him to Arefin. A big man with a powerful voice, he exuded confidence and authority. His wife had important connections in Bangladeshi political circles and he owned a chain of businesses both there and in the UK, including the Stewart hotel. After their first meeting, he contacted Azad again and again, encouraging him to take a job. “He saw something, I don’t know, some vulnerability,” Azad says. “He was always calling me with promises,” he says softly, looking at his hands.

Arefin showed Azad a work contract for £18,000 a year as a tandoori chef, but told him he’d need to pay up front for his Tier 2 sponsorship visa, which would allow him to work for up to five years in the UK. At first he asked for £5,000. But as soon as Azad raised the money, he was told to find more. In the end, Azad borrowed £15,000 from moneylenders and raised another £5,000 selling his family land, his business and, finally, his wife’s jewellery.

£20,000 of debt for a fraud – visas don’t cost £20,000.

Azad spent months working as the sole employee in the Stewart hotel, cleaning, cooking, and gardening for up to 22 hours a day, seven days a week. After a few weeks, Azad asked for his wages and says Arefin grew angry, telling him he would be paid at the end of the month. The date came around, but his salary never appeared.

“I was the only worker for 37 bedrooms, I did everything. I woke every morning at 5am. Two coaches [of tourists] would arrive day after day.” Locals would be hired but then leave almost immediately. “Nobody would stay and work for this man, but I had no choice. I thought, if I go back to my country, how will I pay my debt? My family depends on me. Every month I need to send money home.”

Then other Bangladeshi men started to arrive, having paid Arefin £15,000 to £30,000 for a work visa. Arefin paid them only £100 a month. They worked from 5 a.m. to midnight.

The workers were too scared to talk to locals or guests about what was happening. “He told us, ‘You can’t talk to anybody. If you do, I will cancel your visa,’” Azad says. There was no mobile phone reception, no internet access and no transport. Arefin accompanied them whenever they went into town on hotel business. Some of the workers slept on the floor of empty rooms; others were forced to sleep in a decrepit caravan behind the hotel, with only slug-infested blankets for warmth. In the middle of winter, they were made to go outside in the freezing rain and snow to chop logs, wearing only the sandals they’d brought with them from Bangladesh.

They did eventually get out, and Arefin was prosecuted and convicted, but they’re very little better off – they still owe huge debts in Bandladesh, they have trouble finding work, the authorities did little to help them.

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