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The shockingly everyday story of slavery on Scotland’s streets

Frances Gallagher explains how, after working on a film to highlight human trafficking, she came face-to-face with the issue in a Glasgow church porch.

It is a day I will remember for a long time. Wednesday, October 24, 2018. It started unremarkably going to work in the Justice and Peace Scotland offices in Glasgow city centre, the usual busy day, choc-a-bloc with many varied tasks.

We had recently finished filming a campaign video on human trafficking called Open Wounds—a reference to Pope Francis’ description of human trafficking and modern slavery as the open wound of our society—and launched our short film on Anti-Slavery Day, October 18.


Raising awareness

Everything was going very well, many people had watched the film on social media and my hope was that it would help raise awareness of the signs of human trafficking and modern slavery and, ultimately, that people could be helped.

I have to admit that after a frenetic couple of weeks I was looking forward to things slowing down to a less hectic pace. Maybe I could stop thinking about human trafficking for a while?

I am lucky enough to be a parishioner of St Mungo’s in Townhead so I often pop into the church on my way home from work for some much needed quiet time and that’s what I did on that Wednesday in October, the day I met Luca.

Quiet time over, it was time to make my way home and leaving the church I stopped to talk to a friend in the porch.


Someone entering

I became aware of the outside door slowly opening and someone entering. Standing in front of the holy water font I looked up to see which way the person entering was going to approach, so that I could move aside and give them access to the holy water.

However, the small-framed man with the hood of his jacket over his head didn’t do as I expected.

Instead, he stood with his back to the wall, staring at the floor. I didn’t recognise him. A minute or so passed and I continued to talk to my friend, but occasionally I would look over to try to make eye contact with the intention of saying hello, but his eyes stayed fixed on the floor.

Sensing I was looking at him, he did eventually look up and meet my gaze. He seemed nervous so I smiled and then the words came: “Can you help me?”

He took a step towards me and handed me a small slip of white paper, pointed outside and said someone had given him it. On the paper someone had written ‘The Wayside Club,’ the name of the Legion of Mary-run homeless shelter, and the number of two buses that would get him there.



My first question was: “What is your name?”

“Luca,” came the reply but it was obvious English was difficult and the conversation that ensued between the three of us was a mixture of single words, short sentences and a game of charades.

We worked out that Luca had asked someone on the street for help and that the kind person, thinking Luca was destitute and in need of food, had written down where he should go to get some food and help.

Luca gradually began to relay his situation. He needed help, his phone had run out of charge and his foot was sore, making it difficult to walk.

He had been working in a car wash in Glasgow for six months without pay and the Albanian man who ran the place was very cruel to him. Luca again pointed to his sore foot saying: “Blood.”

Luca, it transpired, had run away from the car wash that day and had to leave all his possessions behind.

He repeatedly referred to the Albanian as ‘mafia’ and there was fear in his eyes when he spoke of the man at the car wash.

Prior to running away Luca had told this Albanian he wanted to go home, to return to Romania; he no longer wanted to stay in Glasgow working for this man with no pay. The man was extremely angry at this and threatened to kill Luca.



Luca’s distress was evident. He was in a strange country unable to speak English, and he had to leave whatever possessions he had behind when he ran from the car wash.

It was cold, dark and getting late and he had nowhere to go and no way of contacting his family. He was desperate. Yet, he did not ask us for money.

Even in his situation Luca’s concern was not for himself. He was very concerned for his family in Romania. He repeated over and over ‘familia, familia—Romania.’

He was fearful the carwash man would contact people in Romania and Luca feared his family were in danger from this man and his associates.



He was desperate to contact his brother to warn him but his phone battery was dead and he did not have a charger.

Neither my friend nor I had a charger that would fit Luca’s phone. Luca had paid a lot of money to an ‘agent’ in Romania who had got him what was supposed to be a ‘good job’ in Glasgow, which would pay well and enable him to send money to his family in Romania. This obviously wasn’t the case.

As Luca was speaking I was mentally ticking all the boxes. Now I knew this was what I had been learning about these past few months: this was human trafficking and it was here in Glasgow.

I was shocked, knowing that it went on but never expecting to be confronted with it in the porch of a Glasgow church.


Trafficking helpline

Shaking, I dialled the number for the human trafficking helpline and explained the situation. They promised to contact an interpreter and call me back.

While we waited for the interpreter to call the three of us walked to a nearby café and sat down with a coffee. Then my phone rang and I jumped to answer it.

As promised, the same lady I had spoken to was on the other end of the line and she had an interpreter also on the line. I handed my phone to Luca and a three-way conversation took place.

After a while Luca handed my phone back to me and the lady at the helpline told me she had to make some enquiries.


Migrant Help

A little time passed and my phone rang again. This time I spoke to someone from Migrant Help. They also spoke to Luca via an interpreter asking him for more information on his situation.

Once again the phone was handed back to me and a very helpful lady informed me that there was space for Luca in their safe house in Renfrewshire. What a relief.

I was given an address and asked to call a taxi to take Luca there. The taxi arrived and I handed the address written on a piece of paper to the driver. It was now three hours since I had first seen Luca and now we were saying goodbye.


‘A good heart’

Before he climbed into the taxi he took my hand and said: “Thank you… you have a good heart.”

I waved goodbye as the taxi started to move away. My phone rang again just as soon as I arrived home.

It was the helpline again, letting me know that Luca had arrived at the safe house and was settling in. Tomorrow they would talk to him and help him and if he wanted to go home they would arrange that.

That autumn day reminded me that if we all take the time to learn the signs of human trafficking and what we can do if faced with it, we can help people to escape the trap of modern-day slavery.

I have used the system and it works. If you want to find out more, contact the Justice and Peace Scotland office on 0141 333 0238.

Justice and Peace can supply leaflets on human trafficking for your parish or group. I would also recommend taking a look at our film, Open Wounds, on YouTube.

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