​Fighting slavery in Dreamland

Posted by Kate Garbers on the 11th February 2019 in Unseen, Slavery, Partners, Human Trafficking

Protecting refugees from trafficking; working across Europe; learning and sharing: Unseen Director Kate Garbers reflects on live simulation training in 'Dreamland'

Bringing people together in the dream environment

In December I was thrown into ‘Dreamland’. A made-up country with its own laws, operating procedures and support arrangements for victims of trafficking. We’re talking ‘dream’ as in ‘the dream’, not just imaginary, as these systems were a combination of all the best bits of European policy and law brought together for the purpose of the simulation. The perfect environment in which to learn and share.

I was one of 250 or so pan-European participants brought together (actually in Vienna) to act out a live simulation over five days, with the purpose of improving the identification and investigation of human trafficking in Europe – specifically the region covered by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The OSCE region is witnessing major movements of people triggered by ongoing conflicts, general instability and a lack of economic opportunities in neighbouring regions. These “mixed-migration flows” are comprised of refugees and economic migrants who are highly vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking.

So in the simulation on a daily basis we would be faced with individuals from other nations (Poorland, Middelland, Transvaland, Warland and Eastland) and were required to assess needs and risks, trafficked or trafficker. While terrifyingly convincing actors played victims and exploiters, the rest of us were assigned roles close to those we play in real life –police officer, labour inspector, lawyer, social worker, and so on.

We were required to bring our skills, competencies and approaches from our own day-to-day work and yet remain within the laws and approaches of Dreamland, not our own countries’ ways of operating.

My life in Dreamland

My role within the simulation was one of NGO Director. This involved managing an NGO office, a safe house, and 25 staff from all across Europe, with a range of experiences.

I had to navigate the demands put onto the NGO by the ‘Chairman’ and the ‘HICON, and was the main contact point for the head of the police, financial investigators, asylum services, labour inspectorate, lawyers, judiciary, social services and the media.

It was a juggling act; responding to demands of other agencies, challenging agencies to partner effectively, supporting the team doing the frontline work, as well as creating processes and protocols, all whilst working within new legal frameworks and operating procedures.

Reminding the team to refer to Dreamland’s laws and processes was one of the hardest things. One of my managers and her team were shouted at by a police officer who was demanding entry to the safe house with no reason other than she should be allowed as she was police. Another time the judiciary services shouted at me for refusing them access to a victim who had clearly declined their offer of an interview, although the laws of Dreamland stated judiciary could ask victims to consent and speak with them or could put them under a court order and demand this – all I did was reflect this to them and received an unprofessional tirade.

It was all a reminder to me that however dysfunctional the system in the UK may be, we do generally have good working relationships and partnerships between many agencies and that this should not be underestimated. The services, processes and approaches we have worked to establish and now take for granted are not usual practice across Europe.Hopefully it was an opportunity for others to learn about a different way of doing things, other potential systems and laws that could advance the fight against trafficking in their own countries.

We managed to persuade police to allow the team to go out on raids with them and support those they may find, this required a lot of convincing, but we got there in the end! I would like to think that many participants will be going home thinking about how this could be done locally.

Waking up – what now?

About 250 key people in the fight against trafficking in Europe have now woken up back in the reality of their day jobs. But hopefully they have taken a bit of that dream home with them, and will be applying those lessons – whether they are about the value NGOs have to offer, about partnership and professionalism, or about new systems or laws that their organisations could implement or lobby for.

Although we have a lot to be proud of here in the UK, there was still a lot we can learn from and I am excited to review some of these processes as we look at the ideal end-to-end process and support for survivors. I am sure Unseen can use some of this as we form our policy recommendations.

Ultimately it was exhausting, enlightening, and fantastic to be making so many connections, representing Unseen, and sharing our experience and approach across Europe.