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What might make a young Vietnamese woman leave her home and family to make a dangerous trip across the world in search of a new life in the UK? Reports that a young Vietnamese woman was one of the 39 people who died this week in a refrigerated trailer have not been confirmed by police, but anti-slavery organisations have been trying to raise the alarm for years about the growing problem of Vietnamese children and young adults being trafficked into the UK.
Boys are usually sent to work in cannabis farms, locked inside converted houses and forced to tend the plants day and night, while the girls and young women are dispatched to work in nail bars. Both sexes are also frequently forced into prostitution. It is a phenomenon that is hidden in plain sight. Because those trafficked are aware that they are in the UK illegally, they are wary of the police and extremely unlikely to report their own exploitation.
Some may not even recognise that they are victims of trafficking, since they may have chosen to travel to the UK in search of work, and will often have paid a people smuggler to organise the journey and to find them a job here. The line between smuggling and trafficking becomes blurred on the journey. Most Vietnamese people working in cannabis farms or in nail bars know that their families at home are heavily in debt to their traffickers, for the cost of their journey, and remain trapped in this debt-bondage for years, trying to repay the debts, and too frightened to seek help.
It is a growing problem. While it is hard to get accurate statistics about the real numbers of trafficked Vietnamese people, because most remain hidden and undocumented, new figures from the Salvation Army, which works with victims of trafficking, show that more Vietnamese men were referred to the charity between July and July than any other nationality.
The charity Ecpat , which works with child trafficking victims, has also seen a steep rise in the number of Vietnamese referrals, from in to in Mimi Vu, a leading expert on trafficking of Vietnamese young people to Europe and the UK, said she had met a higher than usual number of people from the Ha Tinh province during visits to migrant camps in northern France last week. This kind of trafficking is precisely the problem that the Modern Slavery Act, introduced by Theresa May in , was supposed to tackle, but while anti-slavery organisations have welcomed the legislation, they have been disappointed at the lack of funding for implementation of its key measures.