Four Bangladeshi trafficking victims lured to Scotland and held captive by a ruthless businessman have told how the ordeal wrecked their lives, reports the Daily Record.
The businessman, Shamsul Arefin, promised the four men jobs at his hotel in the Highlands and charged each of them up to £18,000 to escape poverty in Bangladesh.
But what was meant to be a new start became a nightmare for Sheikh Bhuiyan, Hasan Mahmud, Kamal Ahmed and Abul Azad.
Arefin, 47, was jailed for three years on human trafficking charges at Fort William Sheriff Court on Friday.
But the forced labour victims still live in fear of him and his links to organised crime, and are struggling with emotional scars and huge debts.
Bhuiyan, 40, who arrived at the hotel in Duror, Argyll, in May 2010, is angry at Arefin’s sentence.
He said: “He forced us to work from morning to night, sometimes starting at 5am and not finishing until after midnight.
“I paid him £16,000 to bring me here. I borrowed it from several people so I’m still in a lot of debt, which makes me very anxious.
“Arefin barely paid me – sometimes not at all, and I had to live in a broken caravan with four or five men. There was no water or heating and it was damp as the window was broken.
“I complained but he didn’t care. He just said he would sack me.
“I was scared of him. I was on anti-depressants and now I have counselling. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to normal.”
Arefin no longer owns the Stewart Hotel, where he forced the men to work.
They now face a battle to stay in Scotland and are hoping they’ll be granted asylum.
Trafficking expert Jim Laird, who supported the victims and gave evidence at Arefin’s trial, said: “The sentence doesn’t reflect the crime. “These men were traumatised and devastated. Not only were they threatened by Arefin, but his relatives in Bangladesh made threats against their families.
“They had to borrow money and haven’t been compensated.”
Labour MSP Jenny Marra, whose Private Members’ Bill will introduce tougher laws on human trafficking in Scotland, said the end of the legal process did not end the victims’ suffering.
She added: “I think the Bill is the first step in getting to grips with this problem.”
Abul Azad’s wife was pregnant with his son, now five, when he came to Scotland.
His father sold family land to help pay Arefin’s £17,500 “fee”, and Abul went to moneylenders. One of them has told him he will cut out his kidney if he fails to pay him back.
Abul, 37, said: “I came here for a bright future for my family and hoped to bring my wife and baby.
“But I’ve lost everything – my savings, my father’s property, my wife’s wedding jewellery, everything.
“I was promised a salary of £18,000 but it was just like slavery. All I got was £50 or £100 here and there.”
Abul now works in Fort William but moves often because he’s afraid. He admits it’s “not much of a life” but says he cannot return to his wife and son in Bangladesh.
“Arefin has powerful relatives,” he explained. “If I go back to my country, I’m afraid that I’ll be killed.
“One of the lenders I borrowed from has threatened to take out my kidney if I don’t pay back my loans, but I have no way of doing that.
“I’m in very big trouble and I don’t know how to get out of it. But although it was a very bad experience, I love Scotland.”
Chef Hasan Mahmud, 44, also came here to help his wife and child, only to end up in the clutches of “monster” Arefin.
He said: “It’s terrible he only got three years. And what will happen when he gets out? He will be very angry because I gave evidence in court.
“I was terrified working for him. He was like a master and we were like the slaves. He had a terrible temper and would throw plates.
“Once, when someone was a few minutes late, he threw a pot of hot oil on the floor at our feet.
“He had control over us. He said he would send us back to Bangladesh. He has important relatives and I was very scared what would happen if we were sent back.”