The UK Home Office has come under intense fire after its decision to send a child victim of human trafficking back to Vietnam, where he has no family. The boy, S, spent five years enslaved in forced labor in the UK, locked inside houses where he was made to grow cannabis plants. He was only 10-years-old when gangsters picked him off the streets in Hanoi and trafficked him to England.
S worked for no pay growing the lucrative plants, often mixing toxic chemical fertilizers that made him ill, and his traffickers ordered him to stay away from the windows so that passersby would not know he was inside. He was only given food periodically and beaten if the plants looked sickly.
Speaking to The Guardian, S recalled the threats of his traffickers:
“I was like an animal, kept in a box,” he said at the home where he lives with his foster family. He has asked not to be identified, to prevent his traffickers from pursuing him.
“I had nothing to do except sleep and look after the cannabis plants. I didn’t know anything about England. They told me the neighbours were bad people who would kill me if they saw me. They said the police would kill me if they found me. They threatened me with knives, and cut my arms and legs when I did things wrong. They said they would kill me if I tried to escape.”
S was finally rescued during a drugs raid and identified as a victim of trafficking when he was sixteen-years-old. Placed into foster care, he learned English and has now started college. But when S turned seventeen-and-a-half his automatic right to remain in the country as a child asylum seeker expired, and he applied for refugee status.
The UK Home Office has now rejected his application. In their decision, an official noted that S showed “considerable personal fortitude in relocating to the UK and attempting to establish a life here”, adding that there was no reason why he “could not demonstrate the same resolve to reestablish [his] life in Vietnam.”
Helen Goodman, S’s MP and the shadow minister for foreign affairs, expressed her disgust with the decision: “It is shocking that the Home Office are proposing to send S back to a Vietnam. The prime minister has made a great deal of tackling modern slavery but the reality of how a victim of human trafficking is treated is very far from the rhetoric.”
S has lodged an appeal that will be reviewed in February, but if this is rejected he must leave the country.
S says he is devastated by the decision. “I have a great life here, a great family. How can I survive somewhere where I have no one? I worry the gangsters would find me again.”
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