Human trafficking: Don't gamble with your future

By Gareth Ward   October 28, 2019 | 08:20 pm PT
Human trafficking is closer than you think. Be aware of the risks, don't be a victim!
British Ambassador Gareth Ward

British Ambassador Gareth Ward

Vietnam is a strategic partner for the U.K. in many fields such as trade, education, and defense. During my term as ambassador here, I have been able to report to London on positive economic trends, on successful high-level visits and on promising co-operation activities.

However, there are also some challenges which we face, and issues which worry me. One of those issues is human trafficking and illegal migration. Young and vulnerable Vietnamese are being trafficked to the U.K. to work in illegal and dangerous activities, for the benefit of organized crime gangs. Many people in Vietnam are not aware of this issue. I would like to change that by sharing information with you about how this human trafficking takes place.

When I talk about human trafficking, you may think about Vietnamese being forced to go to China or neighboring countries like Laos and Cambodia. In fact, Vietnamese people are not only trafficked to countries sharing land borders, but also to developed countries in Asia such as Thailand, South Korea, and Malaysia, and even to Europe. In the U.K., we also talk about ‘modern slavery’, because many victims of trafficking are forced to work in terrible conditions, sometimes with physical or sexual abuse. In recent years, hundreds of potential Vietnamese victims of trafficking have been identified in the U.K.

Unlike victims of trafficking to neighboring countries, who are often tricked or even kidnapped, Vietnamese arriving illegally in the U.K. have usually left voluntarily, believing that they will arrive in the ‘promised land’, to earn money to improve the economic situation for themselves and their families. Many of them are from poor provinces of Nghe An, Ha Tinh and Quang Binh. These people approach or are approached by relatives or friends whom they heard have successfully taken someone to U.K. They pay huge amounts of money, which they get from mortgaging houses, gardens, or boats. They borrow from loan sharks to pay brokers and smugglers to take them illegally across borders. Thus, right from the beginning of their journey from Vietnam, they put their lives in the hands of criminals.

Criminal gangs profit hugely from selling fake documents and taking people across borders illegally. According to our information it costs from US$30,000 to US$50,000 to go illegally to the U.K. This may be by using fake documents on a flight, or more commonly, is a long and risky road journey across many European countries. Most victims of trafficking think that despite the dangers and the costs they will find a life changing opportunity in the U.K. to pay back debts. Sadly this is far from the truth.

Candles were lit during a prayer for the 39 immigrant workers found dead in the refrigerated truck in the U.K. on October 23, 2019. Photo by Reuters.

Candles were lit during a prayer for the 39 immigrant workers found dead in the refrigerated truck in the U.K. on October 23, 2019. Photo by Reuters.

I had the opportunity to hear the story of a Vietnamese who went to the U.K. illegally. It was a nightmare journey: first from Vietnam to China, and then for a month in the cold travelling across Russia, Poland, Germany, France; and finally hiding in a truck crossing the border from France to U.K. He said he was one of those lucky to survive. There are cases of illegal immigrants suffering injuries when being chased. There are cases of death due to extreme cold, lack of oxygen inside lorries. Many never even set foot in the 'promised land.’

What awaits those who do arrive in the U.K. illegally after a long and arduous journey? As illegal immigrants, with the burden of debts and the hopes of their loved ones in Vietnam, they do whatever it takes to gets shelter and money. Without valid papers, they work illicitly. Criminal gangs, taking advantage of their vulnerability and fear of being discovered by the authorities, pay them low wages and force them to work long hours knowing for sure that no one will dare complain. This type of exploitation is what we call ‘modern slavery.’

Temporary jobs such as manicuring, babysitting, or hotel cleaning may sound attractive, but when done illegally they have very low wages. Many illegal immigrants are pressured to work in drug cultivation or prostitution to make money to pay off debts. Cannabis cultivation is dangerous and exploitative, with the fear of being robbed or beaten by gangs, as well as being arrested and deported. The houses used for cannabis farming have their windows locked shut so that no light or smell can get out. Young Vietnamese are forced to live indoors for weeks on end - trapped in these conditions they suffer serious health risks, both for respiratory and mental health.

The U.K. welcomes those who come to the U.K. legally, to visit to study and to work in skilled jobs, in line with our laws. But do not listen to those who tell you that they can get you to the U.K. through the back door and help you to make money working illegally. Don’t gamble with your future. They are not friends. They are criminals. If you go with them you put yourself and your family at risk. They take advantage of illegal immigrants to force them into dangerous work, and keep the profits for themselves. Human trafficking is closer than you think. Be aware of the risks, don't be a victim!

*Gareth Ward is the British Ambassador to Vietnam. The article was first published in Vietnamese on September 29, 2019.

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