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Lessons for Britain from academic’s research into abuse of Slovakia migrants

Dr Matej Blazek

A Loughborough University researcher believes British academics, practitioners and policy-makers can learn valuable lessons from a study he helped put together on the violence, abuse and exploitation of non-European Union migrants in Slovakia.

Dr Matej Blazek’s research for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) found that 15 per cent of regular non-EU migrants in Slovakia have experienced serious forms of violence motivated by hate, forced labour or domestic abuse.

Dr Blazek said that while there had not been any research on migrants on a comparable scale in Britain, the evidence suggests that migrants’ exposure to violence and exploitation is likely to be rooted in similar risk factors.

Dr Blazek, a lecturer in Human Geography in the department of Geography, said non-EU migrants from countries like Ukraine, Vietnam, China, Russia and Serbia, felt isolated in Slovakia because of a lack of engagement from the State.

He said: “With the vulnerable migrants, one of the key themes is a lack of trust and an alarming dis-connection between the migrant population and the formal institutions.

“At the same time, a lack of available information about everyday requirements means people tend to rely on informal sources of help within their communities or the paid services of informal mediators which increases their isolation, dependency and exposure to exploitation and abuse.”

Dr Blazek said the relevant British stakeholders might look at the study’s recommendations which were presented to the Slovakia government in March. These emphasised the importance of establishing a first-contact, one-stop civil institution and a system of outreach work.

Dr Blazek, who is from Slovakia, co-authored the IOM publication, Causes, Forms and Consequences of Violence against Third-Country Nationals in the Slovak Republic, after joining Loughborough University last October.

The research, which was commissioned by the Slovakian government and took 14 months, found that 15 per cent, about 3,000 people, of the non-EU migrant population in Slovakia experienced serious forms of violence, including attacks in public motivated by hate, forced labour or domestic abuse.

Eleven per cent suffered forced labour, which is not addressed as a crime on its own under Slovak law, unlike in the UK. That figure rose to 24 per cent among Ukrainians, the largest group of migrants.

This sort of violence and abuse should normally attract the attention of the police and other agencies.

But Dr Blazek said that migrants are almost ‘invisible’ in Slovakia due to their low numbers and the country’s limited historical experience with migration. Institutions know very little about them.

Dr Blazek said: “As most migrants come to Slovakia for work, we are especially concerned by the findings about the labour exploitation of migrants.

“Particularly low and semi-skilled migrants are exposed to labour conditions such as the withholding of wages, debt bondage, excessive work time without compensation, threats or even restriction of movement and confinement.”

Dr Blazek is optimistic that the Slovakia government will implement the study’s recommendations.

He said:  “We certainly hope so. We are confident that we have prepared a solid evidence base for further actions in policy.”

−ENDS−