Scotland saw a jump in cases of human trafficking last year, up to 213 in 2017 compared to 150 the year prior. Authorities say that half of the victims are Vietnamese, many of whom paid thousands of pounds to make the journey to Scotland under the promise of a decent job.
Yet after traversing Russia and Europe, Vietnamese victims find themselves forced to work at nail bars and cannabis farms, or forced to sell sex.
Related Campaign: Support for all UK victims of trafficking.
Scottish police are stepping up their efforts, but note that it is difficult to get Vietnamese victims to come forward.
“It is tough to gain trust…to get the full picture first time from victims who can be wary of the police,” said detective inspector Brian Gallagher. “Vietnamese communities…can be insular in our towns and cities, which traffickers encourage.”
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports:
Britain is sold as the promised land to many Vietnamese – who travel thousands of miles by foot, boat and lorry over many months – with northern France still a common gateway despite a crackdown on migrants and smugglers around its Calais port.
Many people are then moved up through England and over the border into Scotland, but officials say some Vietnamese women have arrived via Scandinavia and Northern Ireland and police expect other routes to emerge as traffickers adapt and evolve.
No matter how many hurdles stand before them, or how many warnings they receive, the lure of wealth in the West is too strong to resist for many young Vietnamese, said Mimi Vu of Pacific Links Foundation, a U.S.-based anti-trafficking charity.
“It is so hard to tackle the story spun by the traffickers, and it’s all about the money,” Vu, who spends much of her time raising awareness in Vietnam, said during a visit to Glasgow.
“It’s their promise of the pot of gold that awaits in the UK versus our warning of abuse and slavery,” she said, adding that advising people in Vietnam about rising anti-immigrant sentiment in Britain and uncertainty over Brexit has so far proved futile.
Charities in the UK echo this sentiment, saying that Vietnamese victims are likely to remain in the shadows as they fear being arrested or deported if they come to the authorities for help.
They have good reason to be fearful — many young Vietnamese who were trafficked for forced labor on cannabis farms have been jailed and subsequently deported by the UK for crimes they were forced to commit by their traffickers.
As Debbie Beadle, a program director at anti-slavery charity ECPAT UK, explained, “Young Vietnamese trafficking victims are being criminalised instead of being seen as victims of a crime.”