Modern-day slavery on streets of London
THANH can now walk the streets with a freedom she once dreamt of. Since childhood she has endured the life of a modern slave: trafficked across continents, abused, exploited and held against her will – to pay off a never-ending debt to her slavemasters.
Aged 5, she was trafficked from her home in Vietnam to China with her family – tricked by a promise of a better life, but all of them forced into hard labour.
“We had no choice. After I was 15, I had to sleep with men – sometimes 10, sometimes more, every day. My life was difficult because I was made to sleep with so many men that my back joint has been dislocated. I was told if I disobeyed, they would take out my organs.”
The rapes left her with two children. At 23, Thanh was trafficked by the gang out of China to Russia to pick fruit and forced to leave one of her sons behind. And then: a gruelling journey across land and sea to France.
“I remember the conditions were really hard. I had to sleep with so many men. And not in a house – in a shelter, all surrounding us is forest.
“I think I’m going to die. I manage to get by, and they said you will go to another place for a better life soon.”
That other place was the UK. The gang separated her from her 11-year-old son.
Heartbroken, she was put on a lorry to Britain. Thanh had no idea where they were heading. “There were many people in it. There was one little boy inside and I don’t think he made it. During the journey lots of people were banging on the door, but they kept driving on.”
Thanh was brought to London to live in a basement with seven others. Again there was sex work, as well as labour: packing vegetables.
But seizing an opportunity one day to escape, she fled barefoot. Too terrified to go to the police as she had no documents, she found a home with another Vietnamese family; she came to the attention of the authorities when she developed a lump in her breast and needed cancer treatment.
After two years, the Home Office designated her a victim of modern slavery but when her emergency shelter provision ran out, she was homeless. Only by the support of the charity Refuge did she find a way to get a roof over her head.
She has now been reunited with her son. She dreams one day of returning to Vietnam. But for now, she is content to begin her life again as a free woman.“It was so difficult. But looking back, I am really strong. I feel I have to live on – to carry on with my life.”