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Tuesday, 5 November, 2002, 21:05 GMT
NI-Lithuanian labour trafficking exposed
Journalists travelled secretly with the immigrants
Journalists travelled secretly with the immigrants
Hundreds of workers are being brought in from Eastern Europe to work on Northern Ireland farms in harsh conditions on false promises of high pay, BBC Northern Ireland's Spotlight programe has found.

As part of their three-month undercover investigation, Spotlight journalists followed the trail from Lithuania through immigration at Dublin to the farmlands of Northern Ireland.

The immigrant workers are paying up to 1,000 to be trafficked to the province.

Employment agents in Northern Ireland with contacts in agricultural sector are passing them on to farmers who want cheap labour.

Lithuanian journalists Saulius Jarmalis assisted undercover investigation
Lithuanian journalists Saulius Jarmalis assisted undercover investigation

The illegal workers are promised good salaries and good conditions, but the reality turns out to be very different.

On one farm, Lithuanian journalists posing for Spotlight as immigrants were paid about 1.20 an hour - a quarter of the UK minimum wage.

Elsewhere, Spotlight found illegal workers living in an unheated barn with no toilets or washing facilities.

One of the Lithuanian journalists, Saulius Jarmalis, said: "I am amazed by the things I have found here.

"I will tell all my friends now to warn people not to go to Ireland to work. Don't try it and don't believe the promises they give you."

County Armagh hostel was found to house workers
County Armagh hostel was found to house workers

The programme also discovered a hostel in County Armagh operated by a former chairman of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, and now prominent member of the Northern Ireland Housing Association, Erskine Holmes.

Until recently it was promoted as a youth hostel by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Now, it houses 16 alleged illegal workers.

The investigation found the workers pay Erskine Holmes 15 a week each for their beds.

Mr Holmes runs the hostel in the name of a charitable company, The Blackwater Valley Museum.

Using a secret camera, Spotlight journalist Declan Lawn posed as an agent for illegal immigrants and paid Mr Holmes 150 to house some invented workers.

Erskine Holmes would not speak to Spotlight reporter
Erskine Holmes would not speak to Spotlight reporter

He later confronted him to ask for his comment, but Mr Holmes drove away without answering any questions.

As well as the profits made in Northern Ireland, eastern European agents are making hundreds of thousands of pounds from trafficking workers to Northern Ireland.

The programme concluded that the authorities in Northern Ireland seem unable to do anything to stop the flow.

Spotlight is broadcast on BBC One Northern Ireland television at 2235 GMT on Tuesday.

See also:

24 Apr 02 | Politics
01 Oct 02 | England
Links to more N Ireland stories are at the foot of the page.


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