It was “like a dog’s life”, one Vietnamese women told me about her experience of living in the UK. She had been trafficked into the country and said she had “no fixed job and no fixed accommodation”. The woman, who I interviewed as part of my research exploring human trafficking and Vietnam, has now returned to Vietnam.But the distinction between trafficking and illegal migration is a complex and political one – and some people who the UK defines as victims of human trafficking, don’t see it that way.
Another man who I interviewed, who had also returned to Vietnam after being smuggled to the UK to work at a cannabis plantation, told me he had been “very happy and would very much like to go back”.A new report I co-authored for the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner details the types of routes Vietnamese people use to get to the UK – and highlighted the shortcomings of British authorities in tracking and helping those trafficked into the country.
Most of the victims of trafficking into the UK are part of a law-abiding diaspora community who have established successful niche businesses such as nail shops, Vietnamese supermarkets and restaurants. Yet some parts of the Vietnamese community have excelled at the cultivation of cannabis, growing it on an industrial scale throughout the UK and which form a significant part of the wider UK’s billion-pound cannabis market.
In the last ten years, the wholesale cultivation and distribution of cannabis has proved to be so profitable to Vietnamese cannabis growers that the economic opportunities available in the UK have become a magnet for new illegal migrants keen to try their luck. In February 2017, police in Wiltshire, in the west of England, discovered a nuclear bunker that had been converted to house a vast cannabis plantation, staffed by Vietnamese migrants.
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