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THE Home Office risks putting Vietnamese nationals back in the hands of traffickers by targeting them for mass deportations, a human rights group has warned.
A charter flight to the south-east Asian country went ahead on Wednesday despite warnings that there may have been victims of trafficking on board.
It’s not clear how many people were on the flight from Birmingham, but campaigners said that there could have been up to 22. Britain’s first ever charter flight to Vietnam was in April, removing 14 people.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asian division, expressed grave concern for the safety of the people expelled from Britain.
“By deporting these detainees to Vietnam, the UK is sending them back into harm’s way to suffer further at the hands of the traffickers who sent them and [who] will demand the migrants pay the unpaid remainder of their exorbitant fees or face serious consequences,” he warned.
Those who don’t pay up risk retaliation, he said, including against their families. Many Vietnamese migrant workers face serious exploitation and abuse, being tied in debt bondage to brokers and trafficking networks that place them in a condition of forced labour from which they cannot escape, Mr Robertson explained.
Vietnam is one of the top sources of people-trafficking to Britain, with citizens of that country coming third in the list of nationalities referred to the National Referral Mechanism, a framework for identifying potential victims of trafficking.
Mr Robertson stressed that the Home Office should be effectively screening Vietnamese nationals for indicators of trafficking, rather than rushing to deport them.
In response to Wednesday’s charter flight, the Home Office said that all those removed had been provided with the opportunity to raise claims, including to be victims of modern slavery and trafficking, prior to deportation.
But campaigners warned that the system for identifying victims of trafficking is “not fit for purpose” and subject to delays.
At least one person was removed from Wednesday’s flight after being recognised as a potential victim of trafficking.
Many Vietnamese nationals currently in detention have also been rushed through a fast-track asylum process while detained, potentially making it more difficult for them to access meaningful legal advice and for indicators of trafficking to be identified.
Kanlungan Filipino Consortium, a charity working to empower Filipino and other east and south-east Asian migrants in Britain, expressed concerns that deportees could now be “retrafficked” in Vietnam.
Kanlungan's advocacy and campaigns officer Francesca Humi said that this was because “the issues that made them vulnerable to trafficking in the first place will have been exacerbated through this ordeal.”
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