Andy McSmith, Independent (London), March 8, 2007
Britain is becoming the moral “poor man” of Europe because it is using migrant labour to expand the economy while doing almost nothing to protect immigrants from exploitation, according to a report commissioned by the Catholic Church.
The report says the failure to mention migrants in the anti-poverty strategy, that the Government recently submitted to the EU, was an “appalling omission” not made by any other leading EU government.
It says that some priests are ministering to thousands of parishioners who live in constant fear and at “grave risk”. Researchers calculated that in at least three London parishes, more than one quarter of practising Catholics are illegal migrant workers. The study showed 25 per cent of migrants working more than 46 hours a week, while another 10 per cent worked more than 56 hours a week.
A Sri Lankan migrant described working an average of 60 hours a week, for £3.50 an hour—more than £2 below the national minimum wage. Speaking no English, he did not know that his employers were breaking the law by paying him so little, and was not sure whether he had a legal right to be in the country.
A Lithuanian woman described her first eight months in the UK as her worst nightmare. She said: “The supervisors treated us like dirt. This was the case because we were employed illegally. I could never imagine that people could treat their fellow human beings so appallingly. I remember looking at the sky and, seeing a plane, bursting into tears because I wanted to go back home so badly.”
Another Lithuanian described being made to work eight to 10 hours a day scrubbing burnt pots in a kitchen at the back of a restaurant. When he objected to being shouted at “like a dog” he was sacked by the employment agency.
The report, by the Cambridge-based Von Hügel Institute, was based on a study of 1,000 Catholic migrants from eastern Europe, Africa and South America. The researchers were shocked by the level of fear they encountered. Some priests refused to co-operate with their research in case it drew attention to parishioners living illegally. Some Africans would only speak to African priests. Many refused to say how they had reached the UK because of the fear inspired by people traffickers.
Francis Davis, of the Von Hügel Institute, said: “Migration is bringing amazing benefits. It is helping Gordon Brown to keep his inflation target and it is helping the economy to continue to grow. But when it goes wrong, there is very little in place to help those who we have invited to come to our country to help us grow as an economy and build for the future. In the British case, we are at risk of becoming the moral poor man of Europe.”
More than 40 MPs have signed a Commons motion by the Prime Minister’s faith envoy, John Battle, calling for a “fresh public debate” based on The Ground of Justice report.
No choice but to live in a squat—Pavel, 21
Pavel, a 21-year-old Pole with poor English, who paid a substantial fee to an employment agency in Poland for a telephone number which he was told he could ring in London to get accommodation and a job.
But when he arrived at Victoria coach station, he found that the number did not exist, leaving him jobless and homeless. To have gone back empty-handed to Poland would have meant loss of face, so Pavel took to living rough in Victoria.
He came across other Poles, hanging about near Victoria coach station, where coach-loads of eastern Europeans arrive almost every day. They said they could find him somewhere to live, led him down an alleyway, and robbed him of everything he owned.
Later, he followed other Poles into a squat with no electricity or water, run by a criminal gang, filled with older men who were drinking heavily and taking drugs.
Fortunately, one day he overheard a conversation about London’s Cardinal Hume Centre for rough sleepers. They gave him food, a shower, laundry service, and advice on where to go to improve his English. He then found work as a kitchen porter.