There are times when a classic piece of television has the power to move you to tears. Channel 4’s excellent attempt to dramatise the graphic and nightmarish story of Mende Nazer who was kidnapped from her homeland in the Sudenese Nubian mountainsand sold in into Arab slavery in Khartoum and then a domestic slave to the Sudanese diplomat Abdel al Koronky, did just that.
Mende eventually wrote a book about her experiences – the international best seller Slave.
I am a Slave is searing in its intense portrayal of how the fictional character Malia played beautifully by Wunmi Mosaku came to be enslaved and working as a domestic slave in modern day London.
The intensity of the portrayal of this important story was a real master class in acting. Both the principal character Malia and that of her father Bah played by Issach De Bankole deliver what is without a doubt a tour de force. The deep emotional pain of Malia is visceral and leaves the viewer deeply moved by the sheer emotional power of the performance.
Clinging on to her memories of her father and happier times, Malia endures brutality, sexual abuse and forced labour throughout her enslavement. Treated with complete contempt and a callousness that is medieval Malia copes by constantly reaffirming her Nuba identity and revisiting happier memories of her childhood.
Domestic slavery in London is said to be widespread.
In an article recently published in the Daily Telegraph by journalist Heidi Blake both police officers and victims spoke out about this issue, reporting as follows:
Detective Chief Superintendent Richard Martin, who heads a new police unit set up to tackle this issue, told the programme:
“Some of the experiences of victims are literally being chained to the kitchen sink, working 20 hours a day, 7 days a week for little or no pay.
“We’ve had people who were only allowed to eat the scraps off the kitchen table once the children were finished, so they weren’t even fed properly. And around all that you have people being assaulted and abused by the families they are in. We’ve had women who are being raped.”
He added that a number of ongoing cases involved suspects with diplomatic immunity. This is serious criminality being perpetrated by foreign diplomats some of whom are engaged in a system of modern day slavery. That cases that have been reported have been horrifying in their description of the sheer terror and brutality faced by those imprisoned into domestic slavery in London and the UK.
Foreign families bring around 15,000 domestic workers to Britain every year, and hundreds later run away after being mistreated.
Kalayaan, a charity based in west London, helps around 350 migrant workers who have been forced into slavery each year. Around 20 per cent of them report having been physically assaulted by their employers.
A spokeswoman for the charity said:
“We’ve had cases of people being burned with irons by their employers, being threatened with knives, having boiling water thrown at them.
“And two thirds of domestic workers report that they have been psychologically abused, which means they have been threatened, they’ve been humiliated, they’ve been shouted at constantly. Called dog, donkey, stupid, and illiterate. Being constantly criticised and humiliated is deeply traumatising for people.”
One former slave from West Africa, identified as Patience, said she was kept captive by a British solicitor who was a member of the law society and a specialist adviser to a number of London charities.
She claimed she had been made to work 120 hours a week for three years and was regularly beaten.
“I was not allowed to go out. I was not allowed to make friends. I was not allowed to do things without permission. I didn’t have anyone to talk to,” she said.
“She would pinch me, she would slap me, should would do anything. Just name it. She beat me from upstairs to downstairs. It was just too much for me to bear.”
Patience escaped after a neighbour who spoke to her over the garden fence agreed to help her run away. She has since won an employment tribunal against her former employer who has also been convicted of assault.
Another former slave, identified as Josh, said he was put to work in a family house after arriving in Britain from Africa at the age of 11.
“When I got to this country that was when I realised the definition of pain,” he said. “Years of getting up in the morning, doing hard chores, being locked away. It’s a form of stress release to them to take out all their anger on you.”
Another woman, identified as Khalir, said the powerful foreign diplomat who employed her as a nanny threatened to harm her family back home if she went to the authorities about the abuse she suffered.
Det Chief Supt Richard Martin confirmed:
“We have a number of investigations ongoing and some of them involve people with diplomatic immunity.”