Not all slaves are black. In the UK, gypsies have been kidnapping homeless (mostly white) men and sending them abroad to work as virtual slaves. An investigation has discovered 32 victims of this practice. They are being transported to countries like Sweden, Norway and Belgium, where they are forced to work 14 hour days paving driveways (a traditional gypsy specialty) for little or no money. They are forced to live in cramped conditions and are threatened with violence. Many of these men are alcoholics or addicts. There is evidence that these gangs are also operating in Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark.

One of these slaves died in captivity: Oliver Hayre, aged 22, died in a caravan fire in Sweden in 2005 after working in appalling conditions for a gypsy gang for more than three months. In another case, the Swedish police finally offered them help.

In BBC News, Alison Holt quotes one such slave, who wants to remain anonymous, as saying, "I’ve seen people threatened with pickaxes. I’ve seen people kicked, punched. I’ve nearly been pushed off a moving vehicle. It’s very tense. You’re waiting for the next thing to happen,." Like the others, he was promised a well-paying job when he was picked up.

Holt quotes Aidan McQuade, of Anti-Slavery International, as saying, "They are using very vulnerable people and especially in hard economic times, people have lost work, nowhere to live, thrown out from families."

Holt quotes Cecilia Malmstrom, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, as saying, "That physically fit British men can be threatened or coerced into working without pay and living in fear for their safety reflects the brutal reality of modern slavery."

She quotes Oliver Hayre’s father Martin as saying, "It’s the 21st Century, we abolished slavery, but yet we haven’t. My perception of the authorities is that they turn a blind eye to it and the intimidation to Oliver was real. It cost him his life."

Could it happen here? We have plenty of homeless men living on the streets of our cities, but it would cost too much to transport them to European and Scandinavian countries. But it could start happening in places like Mexico, where homeless men might be transported to newly booming industrial countries like Brazil, Argentina or Chile.

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