Free­dom from slav­ery

An end to suf­fer­ing

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - THE IN­DE­PEN­DENT

THANH can now walk the streets with a free­dom she once only 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.

“Ba­si­cally we had no choice. I re­mem­ber one oc­ca­sion when I was so tired I could not carry out the work they asked me to do – they beat me so hard that I be­lieved I was go­ing to die. My par­ents wit­nessed it and we were so scared ever since.”

“Af­ter I was 15, I had to sleep with other men – some­times 10, some­times more, every day. My life was re­ally dif­fi­cult be­cause I was made to sleep with so many men that my back joint has been dis­lo­cated. The doc­tor told me there was a lot of pres­sure be­hind my back be­cause I was a sex slave in China.

“I was told if I dis­obeyed their or­ders, then 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.

“Some­times I think I’m go­ing to die. I try to cope; I try to man­age to get by, and they said to me 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. “The lorry was re­ally cold. It was used to keep meat – a freezer lorry. There were many peo­ple in it. There was one lit­tle boy inside as well 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 only came to the at­ten­tion of the author­i­ties when she de­vel­oped a lump in her breast and needed treat­ment for can­cer.

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.

To her joy, 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.

“At one point in time, I think if there is a tablet for me to take, for me to die – to es­cape, I prob­a­bly would have taken it. It was so dif­fi­cult. But now look­ing back, I am re­ally strong. I feel I have to live on – to carry on with my life.”

• Julie Etch­ing­ham is a news presenter on ITV, a com­mer­cial TV net­work in the UK.

‘If I dis­obeyed their or­ders, then they would take out my or­gans’

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