Vietnamese children identified as potential victims of modern slavery are at risk of being re-trafficked in the UK, according to a report from the anti-slavery commissioner.
Councils’ ability to stop Vietnamese young people going missing from care is “fraught with difficulty”, according to the report, with the “frequency and speed” with which they disappear a “significant issue”.
The report said that, due to children’s common surnames and “little or no biometric data available”, police services looking for missing children had “low expectations that they would find them quickly, if at all. This means they are exposed to the risk of further exploitation and re-trafficking.”
The findings follow research commissioned in 2016 by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, into the exploitation of Vietnamese nationals en route to, and within, the UK. In 2016, Vietnamese was the second most common nationality of potential victims of modern slavery referred in the UK.
The report highlighted the difficulty in finding appropriate placements for children, stating that secure accommodation “is typically seen as inappropriate and is often already over-subscribed”, while the “the speed at which children can leave sheltered nonsecure accommodation presents significant challenges”.
Evidence from National Referral Mechanism (NRM) files provided insight into how minors are directly re-trafficked from care, it added. In one case, a victim was placed in the same care facility as others who had been exploited alongside them. When two of the other victims contacted their trafficker out of fear of what might happen if they did not, the third person felt that they had no choice but to comply. Fear of reprisal led a further victim to contact their trafficker, while others were either located by their trafficker while out walking or befriended by a trafficker while in care.
The report also said professionals faced difficulties in determining the ages of potential victims, with some “purposefully” providing a false age “in order to gain an immigration advantage”.
In cases where Vietnamese minors are being exploited, teenagers “on the cusp of adulthood” are typically targeted, which can “make it challenging for professionals to differentiate between minors and adults”.
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The report cited evidence from an experienced academic and community worker in Vietnam, who said there was only one child out of the 39 returnees she was working with.
It added: “She was certain that most people were not children and were instead advised to say that they were. They had been briefed to avoid deportation and detention. She gave an example of one 40 year old man who told the authorities he was 15 and the authorities believed him.”
Meanwhile, an experienced Vietnamese social worker who had dealt with several alleged children in the UK told researchers she was “convinced that adults routinely lie and do so blatantly”, a view shared by other members of the Vietnamese community who were interviewed.
‘Highly gendered’ issue
The report also said that the exploitation of Vietnamese nationals was a “highly gendered phenomenon”. Male potential victims accounted for 65% of all Vietnamese nationals referred to the National Referral Mechanism – which identifies and provides support to victims of human trafficking and modern slavery – between 2009 and 20 October 2016, and the largest group was males potentially exploited as minors.
The majority of male minors experienced forced labour exploitation, while the majority of female minors experienced sexual exploitation.
Police officers interviewed for the report said the majority of Vietnamese nationals involved in cannabis cultivation were adults, “although many claim to be children”.
Although police encounter Vietnamese minors, they are “not always able to identify them as victims of modern slavery”, the report added.
The research included analysis of data from NRM files for 75 Vietnamese nationals who had received a ‘positive conclusive grounds’ decision, i.e. that on the balance of probability they were victims; 61 semi-structured interviews in Vietnam and the UK; and 11 life history interviews with Vietnamese potential victims of modern slavery who at the time of fieldwork had received a ‘positive reasonable grounds’ decision – that from the information available they were believed to be potential victims but this could not be proven.