The tragedy of trucks in Essex must inspire greater efforts to stop Vietnamese human trafficking.


Trials in the United Kingdom of drivers and hauliers involved in the disaster of the Essex truck that killed 39 migrants from Vietnam resulted in guilty pleas and convictions. Agents in Vietnam who paid for the victims to fly to the UK were also sentenced to jail in Vietnam. While these are promising changes that offer a measure of justice for victims, they can do little to stop Vietnamese migrants being smuggled and trafficked to the United Kingdom. The true masterminds and profiteers of this heinous crime have not entered any justice system: organized crime gangs. It’s been a year since Essex, and the Covid pandemic has made the world a very different place.

International air traffic is interrupted and will not, for the near future, return to usual. Vietnam is one of the world’s few bright spots: the spread of the virus has been rapidly contained in the region, recording just over 1,400 cases and 35 deaths.

The economic outlook is, thus, rosy.

Manufacturing is booming, the supply chain of global corporations is coming to Vietnam, which means thousands of new jobs, but young Vietnamese are also seeking to migrate to the UK and Europe.

In countries like Poland, Romania, Hungary, Finland and Slovakia, recruiters post regular messages on social media advertising blue-collar employment, promising a life of relative prosperity.

Droves of Vietnamese respond, ready to be the first to leave once international borders have reopened.

If Vietnamese smuggling and trafficking in the UK does not avoid the chance of anonymous death in the back of a truck, Covid-19 and criminal convictions, what can you do? Met police to reward survivor of child trafficking arrested after disclosing ordealRead moreFirst, in the first place, we need to discuss the root causes of why people embark on this dangerous path.

In their home provinces in central Vietnam, motivated by a desire for economic and social opportunities they consider unattainable, people are willing to pay 30,000 pounds or more to smugglers for a “safe route” to Britain.

In order to dispel the illusion of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, awareness campaigns are not enough. The campaigns need to be supported by services such as vocational training and work placement that provide opportunities for a better life in Vietnam. At the same time, sex trafficking should no longer be seen as just a problem for the United Kingdom or Vietnam. Trade in wildlife, drugs, and counterfeit products is highly lucrative and is spearheaded by ethnic Vietnamese organized crime groups located in countries with large diaspora populations, such as Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic, and France.

It is no coincidence that smuggling routes frequently pass through these nations, and on their way to the United Kingdom, Vietnamese migrants are often victims of trafficking. The perpetrators may be of Vietnamese descent, but they are EU people who, on EU soil, commit crimes. The lack of experience and expertise to work with victims and diaspora communities is one of the greatest gaps in UK and EU action against Vietnamese trafficking and organized crime. The secondment of Vietnamese officers to the Scottish police, who brought much needed linguistic and cultural skills, was a successful first step in 2020. In order to tackle Vietnamese trafficking in human beings and smuggling at the highest criminal level, this cross-border collaboration needs to be expanded to EU transit countries, and a long-term plan and a dedicated budget is required. The sad reality is that the Vietnamese migrants in the truck were deemed victims only because they died sadly and quite publicly. Otherwise, without taking into consideration how they were abused or threatened before they entered Essex, they would have been deemed illegal migrants. In order to solve the transnational and ever-evolving industry of human trafficking and smuggling, we need to identify victims, no matter where they are on their path, and change our strategies and responses.

In order to draw attention away from them, criminal networks depend on the uncertainty of Covid, Brexit, and economic crisis, but states, NGOs, the private sector, and law enforcement must remain centered and organized. There’s still a Wei there,


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