There are an estimated 136,000 people living on conditions of modern slavery un the United Kingdom (Global Slavery Index 2018). According to the 2017 annual figures provided by the National Crime Agency, 5, 145 potential victims of modern slavery were referred through the National Referral Mechanism in 2017, of whom 2,454 were female, 2688 were male and 3 were transgender, with 41% of all referrals being children at the time of exploitation. People are subjected to slavery in the UK in the form of domestic servitude, labour exploitation, organ harvesting and sexual exploitation, with the largest number of potential victims originating from Albania, China, Vietnam and Nigeria. This data however does not consider the unknown numbers of victims that are not reported.
Lam was working to support his family after his father’s death when he heard he could earn more money overseas. Agents arranged for Lam to travel to the UK. Upon arrival he was taken to a house full of plants and told it was his job to look after them. His movement restricted and forced to sleep on the floor, Lam was threatened with violence and death if he tried to leave. After five weeks the house was raided by police and Lam was arrested. With the help of the NSPCC Child Trafficking Advice Centre, Lam was able to leave the young offenders institute and was placed in to foster care.
I was 16 years old when I came to the UK. I'd left home the year before after my father died in a motorbike accident. My family were very poor and lived in a small rural town in central Vietnam. My father's death left my family with money problems and my mum started to borrow money from local loan sharks. She encouraged me to get a job so I left school and started working as a newspaper vendor, but my salary wasn't enough to support my family.
Slowly our family got more and more into debt, and the loan sharks started to threaten my mum. We had heard that it was possible to earn lots of money overseas so me and mum decided that I should go overseas to work and send money back home. We told the loan sharks what we were planning and they put us in contact with agents who said they could arrange the journey for me to go the UK.
The agents arranged false travel documents for me and I left Vietnam with a group of other people going abroad to work. We flew to the Czech Republic and then hid in trucks from there to the UK. The journey was awful, I was threatened by the people in charge and saw other young people being assaulted and raped. They told me I wasn't allowed to contact my mum or speak to anyone else. There wasn't much food available and little access to toilets.
When I got to the UK a man met me and told me he was going to help me find work. He took me to a house full of plants and told me that my job was to look after the plants. He told me I had to stay in the property at all times. Every day, someone would call to check up on me and sometimes visit to make sure I was doing a good job. I slept on the floor in a corridor and lived on food parcels. I remember asking the man who took me there if I could leave because I didn't like it but he threatened to beat me or starve me to death.
After 5 weeks the police raided the house and arrested me. They told me that the plants I was looking after were cannabis and that I'd been helping to grow illegal drugs. The police charged me with drug offences and I was sentenced in court to 18 months custodial sentence in a Young Offenders Institute.
I had two solicitors to help me, one was trying to get me out of prison, and the other one was trying to help me stay in the UK. I wanted to go back home, but I knew that the money I owed to the agents and the loan sharks meant that my life was in danger. I was worried about my mum, but couldn't contact or help her from prison. The entire time was really scary and confusing.
A lot of professional people visited me in prison, including Fiona* from the NSPCC Child Trafficking Advice Centre (CTAC). She asked me lots of questions about my life and said she was writing a report to try and help me.
I left the Young Offenders Institute after 12 months. A social worker helped me to live with a foster carer, who I stayed with until I was 18. I was told that because I had been trafficked into the UK I could stay for 3 years, but after that I would have to ask the UK government if I could stay longer. With help from people at CTAC and other agencies I began to understand what had happened to me.
I was invited by CTAC to join a group to meet other young people who had been trafficked out of their countries. I now understand what trafficking is and I use my time to help the NSPCC support more children who have been abused like me.
I know of other people who have been trafficked into the country but who have returned to work for traffickers after their arrest. They work despite the risk, out of fear that their families will be harmed if they do not work to pay off their debts. I'm not in contact with these gangs anymore, but I'm still scared of them.
All credit is given to NSPCC Child Trafficking Advice Centre -nspcc.org.uk/ctac
Narrative can be found at https://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-we-do/childrens-stories-about-abuse/gracies-story/