'He was the master and we were his servants': The men kept as 'slaves' in a remote Scottish hotel

Story highlights

  • A group of men from Bangladesh were trafficked to work at a Scottish hotel
  • They were forced to work long hours and not paid promised wages
  • Their trafficker was convicted and jailed

Appin, West Scotland (CNN)The snow-capped mountains in Appin, West Scotland, are a hiker's paradise. They attract hundreds of tourists every year and up until a couple of years ago, many would have stayed at the 37-bedroom Stewart Hotel.

It now lies in ruins and its former owner Shamsul Arefin is serving a three-year prison sentence for the labor trafficking of a group of men from Bangladesh.
    Among the victims was Abdul Azad. He was a chef in his family's business back home in Dhaka, when was attracted by an advert in the local paper advertising chef work in the UK.
    The job offer included an annual salary of around $22,500, as well as paid holidays, free food and accommodation, according to court documents.

    'Master and servants'

    In 2009, Azad arrived in the UK, leaving his wife and son behind. But at the hotel, the work was very different from what had been promised. As well as working in the kitchen, Azad had to clean rooms, work in the garden, clear snow and provide labor for tradesmen.
    What's more, as a condition of the job offer, Arefin had demanded an initial payment of about $6,200 to sponsor the men's visas and he later wanted even more money, the documents show. To pay the fees, Azad says he had to sell his wife's jewelry and a small piece of land that his father owned.
    And far from the promised salary, Azad was told he would be paid only $125 per week, with the shortfall made up later -- but, according to the documents, he was not even paid that.
    Even once the men realized the harsh reality of their situation, they felt unable to leave. They felt bound to Arefin, having paid him thousands of dollars for sponsorship visas, and Azad felt that, as their sponsor, Arefin had power over them.
    Azad told CNN: "[Arefin] had the sponsorship license, he could do anything and he used to always show us this. 'If you don't do this, I can cancel [the sponsorship] and you have to move back and you may be illegal and the police will arrest you.'
    "So we say nothing, because he was the sponsor, just like a master. He was the master and we were his servants."
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    'I wanted a better life'

    After more than a year of labor abuse, Azad and three of the other victims found help at a local charity Lochaber Hope, which put the men in touch with a migrant rights NGO called Migrant Help.
    "The men first came to my attention late in 2009," said Jim Laird, who worked for Migrant Help at the time. "They were in a terrible state, they'd clearly been brought over for labor exploitation.
    "Their working conditions were very poor. They'd had to pay a lot of money to come here to the owner of the hotel, they weren't paid properly, they were working really long hours, sometimes up to 22 hours a day. They were forced to do all of the work to do with running the hotel, not just chefs, which they had been brought over to do."
    He added: "There were probably about a dozen men involved, but only four of them who agreed to come and be supported by Migrant Help and then also to go to the police and have the case prosecuted."
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    All Azad had wanted was a more secure financial future for his family. "This is my fault, I feel," he said. "Why did I fall into this trap? I am the greedy one because I wanted a better life? Every human being wants this and the conditions in my country everybody knows."

    Facing deportation

    The trafficked men say they were able to stay in the UK on short-term temporary work visas after agreeing to testify as witnesses in the criminal investigation into Arefin but they now face deportation back to Bangladesh.
    Despite Arefin's imprisonment, Azad said he still feels that his life would be under threat if he returned home.
    He said, "You can ask me the question, why do you not leave this country and go back to your home country? Yeah I can go back, anytime I can go back, and in maybe one or two months you can find my dead body."
    In response to this story the Home Office said they "do not routinely comment on individual cases" and issued a statement on the men's possible deportation: "The UK has a proud history of providing protection to those who need it. Anyone who feels that they would be at threat by returning to their home country is able to apply for asylum. Each claim is carefully considered on its individual merits".
    Azad and his former colleagues are currently negotiating their appeal to remain in the UK and to bring their families over to them.
    "My son is growing up without me, this is no life," said Azad. "And he had a dream too that he wanted to come with me and join with me, he wanted to play with the snow."