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New research outlines why Vietnamese victims of trafficking are vulnerable to re-trafficking on return

Written by
Lara Casalotti, Asylos
Date of Publication:
29 May 2020

Asylos and ARC Foundation are pleased to announce the publication of their joint report Vietnam: Returned victims of trafficking: Issues affecting the likelihood of re-trafficking. The report addresses a critical gap in country of origin information (COI) in refugee status determination procedures. It is primarily intended for legal workers representing Vietnamese victims of trafficking and aims to contribute to a more transparent and informed debate about their situation and a greater recognition of their protection needs. The report combines relevant and timely publicly available material with new information generated by interviewing a range of individuals with authoritative knowledge on the topic. It can be downloaded here.

The critical need to prioritise COI production on children and young people's risk profiles has become increasingly apparent as lawyers are consistently raising concerns to us about the scarcity of available information in relation to child-specific persecution and harm acting as a barrier to proper consideration of young people's protection claims. This report follows a previous joint publication from Asylos and ARC on Albania: Trafficked Boys and Young Men in May 2019.

Vietnamese nationals are regularly among largest groups of asylum seekers in the UK and of victims referred to the National Referral Mechanism

The report topic is especially relevant in the UK as Vietnamese nationals regularly form one of the top ten largest groups of asylum seekers in the UK. They also consistently feature in the top three nationalities of victims referred to the UK National Referral Mechanism (NRM), with numbers consistently increasing over the past few years. Existing information focuses mainly on the migration route and experience en route or in the country of final destination rather than on the situation upon return for victims of trafficking. UK guidance in the form of legal Country Guidance determinations on this issue is non-existent.

Victims of trafficking recognised in the UK are not automatically accepted by the Vietnamese authorities

The sources presented in the research report strongly indicate the risk of re-trafficking that exists for returned victims of trafficking to Vietnam. A key observation related to the risk to children and young people is that there is a gap in existing legal protection for children as in Vietnam, 'child trafficking' applies to under 16 year-olds only, and does not include those trafficked at the ages of 16 or 17 years. In general, the national legal definition of what constitutes a victim of trafficking differs from the internationally accepted definition resulting in returned victims of trafficking not being recognised as such and therefore not being able to access state shelter and service provisions. Instead, they are frequently classified as 'economic migrants' especially if they left Vietnam of their own free will. Moreover, victims of trafficking recognised by the UK NRM are not automatically accepted by the Vietnamese authorities.

Many returnees have a high level of debt to pay back to traffickers or moneylenders which leave them vulnerable to re-trafficking

There are no specific government run shelters for victims of trafficking, but rather victims of trafficking stay in the same shelters that support other vulnerable people called Social Protection Centres. There is only one government run shelter that is specifically dedicated to female trafficking victims where children can also stay. There are no state shelters specifically for male or children victims of trafficking. In addition to the lack of access to shelters, factors that may increase the possibility of re-trafficking include economic, social and psychological problems on return. Many returnees have a high level of debt to pay back to traffickers or moneylenders which leave them vulnerable to re-trafficking. Identified barriers to re-integration include the stigma and discrimination related to trafficking. For women this is particularly in the case of sex-trafficking and for men there is the stigma of being a 'failed migrant'.

"Insofar as the Home Office CPIN suggests that victims are likely to be able to access effective protection from the state, this conclusion is unjustified and largely unexplained and should not be followed."

David Neale, Legal Researcher at Garden Court Chambers, has written an accompanying legal note to our report which contrasts the research that we have found with the recently published Home Office CPIN on Vietnam: Victims of Trafficking. His analysis asserts that the Asylos and ARC Foundation report provides compelling evidence that victims of trafficking from Vietnam who are in an economically / socially vulnerable position are vulnerable to re-trafficking on return. He writes: "Insofar as the Home Office CPIN suggests that victims are likely to be able to access effective protection from the state, this conclusion is unjustified and largely unexplained and should not be followed."

More about Asylos and ARC Foundation's 'strategic research project'

On the back of our 2017 report on 'westernised' young men being returned to Kabul, Asylos and ARC Foundation have received a three-year grant to publish a series of strategic research reports with the aim of addressing the most critical gaps in country of origin information (COI) in UK refugee status determination (RSD) procedures. The first report was published in May 2019 Albania: trafficked boys and young men. The topic for each report will be chosen from the suggestions we receive from practitioners supporting asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants in the UK, with periodical call outs being announced through legal networks and on our website. If you would like to submit a topic suggestion, you can do so via this form. Please get in touch with us at info@asylos.eu and info@asylumresearchcentre.org to learn more about the project and topic scoping.