Story from Isobel McFarlane, Media Officer, Salvation Army
Andreea had a sad and difficult childhood. She was placed in an orphanage as an infant and, when she lost her hearing at the age of six, moved to a hospital for people who were deaf and mute. She left there when 16 years old and lived unsupported on the streets.
A promise of well-paid work in the UK seemed too good to refuse. Andreea’s passport was taken from her the moment she arrived and she was forced each day to go to a different location selling flowers on the street or begging with a card explaining that she was deaf and mute and stating she was collecting money for charity.
At the end of each day she would be picked up and returned to a house where her traffickers forced her to hand over all the money she had made under threat of a beating should she refuse or conceal any. Even though she was given very little to eat, when she asked for more she was also beaten.
One day she found the courage to communicate with a Community Support Officer in the street that she had been beaten and was taken directly to a police station where she could share her story through a sign language interpreter. The Police referred her to The Salvation Army who transported her to safety with City Hearts.
Andreea was initially fearful and staff had to work hard through sign language interpreters to communicate with her and reassure her that she was safe and entitled to help. During her stay staff provided her with support and training to develop independent skills and feel settled. Among other things Andreea was helped to learn to cook; to decorate her own room and other rooms in the house; to write to friends in Romania; and to attend local deaf groups. She was also supported to venture independently to the shops and town centre.
In the meantime City Hearts staff made contact with several appropriate non-governmental agencies in the UK and in Romania and began to make arrangements for Andreea to return home as this was her wish. Andreea was involved in the process of finding suitable accommodation in Romania and The Salvation Army ensured that she was accompanied to the airport and met in Romania by a case worker from the safehouse there where she is now living.
Andreea was also helped to give evidence to an ongoing police operation to try to bring her traffickers to justice.