Three cases of human trafficking, including migrant workers being kept against their will, have been uncovered by a special task force set up to tackle problems faced by migrants in Wisbech.
The individuals affected have been moved to a safe house and interviewed by police.
The incidents are among the early successes of Operation Pheasant, a multi-agency initiative officially launched two months ago.
It brings together Cambridgeshire Police, the Gangmaster Licensing Authority (GLA), Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue, the Department of Work and Pensions, HM Revenue & Customs, the UK Border Agency (UKBA), the UK Human Trafficking Centre and Fenland District Council.
Its aim is to tackle the exploitation of migrant workers in Wisbech by unlicensed gangmasters and rogue landlords.
Numerous safety failings in private rented properties in the town have been identified and rectified as a result of more than 150 visits by officers from FDC and Fire & Rescue. Most involve electrical faults, fire hazards and overcrowding.
Operation Pheasant is building on an existing local partnership targeting issues of crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour, including theft, street drinking and rough sleeping.
Many of the problems are linked to the provision of substandard or overcrowded accommodation in the private rented sector. This has led to widespread exploitation, including no tenancy rights, illegal evictions, threats of violence and human trafficking.
It has previously proved hard to gather vital information from migrants reluctant to engage with the authorities or too frightened to report concerns to the police.
To help combat this, about 750 voluntary questionnaires have been completed by residents during home visits by Cambridgeshire Police and Fenland District Council. The responses have provided information on problems such as poor pay and conditions and illegal work practices.
Other measures taken by the task force include regular traffic checks to tackle a wide range of motoring offences and action to curb illegal immigration and anti-social behaviour.
They have led to 16 foreign nationals leaving the UK voluntarily and three others who had been engaged in petty crime and disorder being detained and deported.
Fenland Inspector Robin Sissons said: “I’m pleased with the way that this operation is progressing. We are gaining positive feedback from the community, saying they are comforted in the knowledge that we are tackling this problem.
“We are also identifying and helping victims that would not have otherwise been known to us. There is no doubt that we are only at the beginning of a very long road but at least we have started the journey.”
Picture caption: Major problem: overcrowding