Three years after Essex tragedy, Vietnamese human trafficking continues

Despite the 2019 Essex tragedy, human trafficking of Vietnamese nationals to and through Europe continues, a report by Belgium's federal migration centre Myria showed on Wednesday. The centre, therefore, calls for raising awareness around the issue among frontline services, such as police or medical services.

In 2019, the bodies of 39 Vietnamese, including two children, were found in a refrigerated truck in the English county of Essex. All died due to overheating and a lack of oxygen in the container they were transported in. Nevertheless, the phenomenon of "debt bondage" is still on the rise: people are recruited with false promises of employment, often putting themselves deeply in debt. They are often smuggled into the UK in life-threatening conditions and have to work in exploitative conditions en route, including in Belgium, and on arrival to pay off their smuggling debts.

In this context, Myria recommends that as soon as frontline services find Vietnamese working illegally, in nail salons or exotic restaurants for example, they consider that these people may be victims of human trafficking. Subsequently, the national mechanism for referral to specialised shelters can be applied. "It is in these shelters that victims can regain confidence and move on with their lives," Myria stresses.

Several victims reported that they were "dehumanised" through the language used by the smugglers, as they were often described as "chickens" or "goods".

Breaking free from the web of debt is no easy task, as Vietnamese victims are often vulnerable and highly dependent on their exploiters. It is, therefore, crucial that frontline services such as police officers or medical workers are made aware of the issue and have the necessary resources to conduct an investigation and intervene. In light of this, Myria calls for continued training with due attention to the cultural context of Vietnamese victims.

The annual report describes staggering details about Vietnamese human smuggling and trafficking in Europe. For instance, witness statements reveal that after the Essex tragedy, smugglers further inflated the price of their "services" and that safehouses and hiding addresses were recently discovered in the Belgian towns of Wichelen, Leuven and Leopoldsburg. Several victims also reported that they were "dehumanised" through the language used by the smugglers, as they were often described as "chickens" or "goods".



In October 2019, 39 bodies were found in a shipping container at Waterglade Industrial Park in Essex, Britain © Photo by Ray Tang/Xinhua

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