Speaking to reporters at a press conference in London to publicize the results of a year-long investigation, the head of migrants rights division Clarice Ayhol claimed that British farmers are exploiting migrants’ fear of deportation to employ them in slave-like conditions, even using them as “human scarecrows.”
“We interviewed hundreds of migrants from Eastern Europe and frankly the stories they had to tell us were horrifying,” said Ayhol. “Men, women and even children were doing backbreaking work for long hours in return for a pittance in wages — those that were lucky enough to get paid all.”
Some workers were promised wages as low as £0.35 (about $0.50) an hour that never materialized, while others had to pay the farmers for the “‘privilege”’ of working or risk having their illegal status disclosed to authorities. “In effect,” said Ayhol, “they were being blackmailed.”
Some of the worst abuses involved migrants being dressed in ragged old clothes and tied to posts in freezing fields to act as live scarecrows. Ayhol introduced a man who would identify himself only as Elnot from Bulgaria.
“I was making an honest illegal living driving my unlicensed truck, which had been classified as unroadworthy by the Bulgarian government, delivering farm produce to markets around London when one day my brakes failed and I crashed into a car killing a family of five. I asked one of the farmers I was working for to give me a job on his farm, and he tied me to a post in a turnip field.”
“Although I couldn’t run away, I could move my arms and that helped me to keep warm as well as scare the birds. Sometimes my arms became too tired to move and the birds would sit on me and crap on my head so I screamed angry Bulgarian folk curses. The farmer didn’t pay me but he let me have a raw turnip every day. I would eat half and save the rest to send back to my family in Bulgaria.”
When he was found and rescued by migrants rights activists, Elnot’s genitalia as well as several fingers and toes had been lost to frostbite. The farmer is now facing a number of charges including unlawful imprisonment.
Elnot’s message to other illegal Eastern European immigrants is to stick to unlicensed driving or construction work. “When I was staked out in that freezing turnip field for hour after lonely hour, unable to move and peeing and crapping in my ragged scarecrow-style pants, I had a lot of time to think. Agricultural work might be fine for Poles or Hungarian Gypsies but I would advise my fellow Bulgarians that it’s not as glamorous and exciting as they may have heard.”
Ms. Ayhol told reporters: “No one is illegal. People like Elnot only want to work hard doing jobs British people feel are beneath them, like working as human scarecrows, and contribute to, and integrate into, British society by sending all their earnings back home before returning to their families in Eastern Europe where they live like kings.”