They were referring to the amount of money many Vietnamese are willing to pay to enter the UK or other European countries illegally. I found this human trafficking money in 2019, when 39 bodies were found in a container in Essex, UK. Most of them were residents of Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces in central Vietnam.
Pham Van Thin from Nghen, Can Loc district, Ha Tinh, father of one of the deceased, said the family paid more than GBP 30,000 (about $41,000) to send their daughter to the United Kingdom. The deceased girl was given a visa to enter China before traveling to Eastern Europe, where she stayed for several months. She suffocated and died in a container, ending a journey of insurmountable cost.
The 2019 incident did not end human trafficking in Europe. Recently, on September 27, French police dismantled a human trafficking network and “rescued” six individuals, including four Vietnamese, from another container. One of the trafficking victims, after discovering that they would not be sent to the desired destination in the UK, informed the police.
But how can Vietnamese workers find better opportunities abroad, even if they are not there illegally? The UK and many European countries do not issue visas to Vietnamese workers. If workers come to Germany on internship programs, the language and skill requirements are very high. If workers participate in internships in Portugal, Cyprus or Turkey, which typically last two to three years, they must pay large sums to intermediaries, which often offset any potential income workers may earn abroad.
A friend of mine who works illegally in Cyprus said that when he registered in 2017, he was informed that the cost was only $3,000. He ended up losing about $6,000 in other intentionally hidden costs. He then arrived in Cyprus, working in the agricultural sector for $500 a month, not including living expenses. After three years, he saved $10,000. Compared to the initial costs, it wasn’t really a very profitable investment.
The £30,000 Pham Van Thin paid for his daughter in 2019 is the “standard” price to smuggle someone into the UK for the past 10 years. If successful, the smuggled individual works in nail salons or cannabis cultivation facilities.
While nail salon work can help illegal individuals earn money slowly and steadily, cannabis cultivation, if undetected, can bring in a lot of money but carries very high risks of imprisonment. An individual can make tens of billions in a single transaction. Besides the many people who die during the journey and are imprisoned, many people have changed their destiny thanks to cannabis. These people’s stories are motivating the next wave of illegal workers who join the human trafficking network to try their luck in the West.
In the past, the UK had a more flexible and simpler refugee policy, making it one of the most popular destinations for illegal workers. Over the past two years, more than 73,000 people have attempted to reach the UK illegally via boats, including 1,800 Vietnamese, according to the British ambassador to Vietnam.
Recently, the British government passed a new law stating that illegal immigrants will be temporarily detained and eventually sent to a third country or their country of origin, in the hope that this policy would prevent human trafficking to the United Kingdom .
During my studies in the UK, I saw many people spend their entire lives within the four walls of illegal cannabis farms. They were making money, but they were sending it home, and they couldn’t really spend it. They have lost everything in life.
The pressure to make ends meet, while understandable in its own way, must be addressed with knowledge and real technical and linguistic skills, rather than a gamble on individual lives.
Not only would the illegal workers suffer from their actions, but the entire community, including other Vietnamese trying to legally realize their dreams as foreigners. Society as a whole should actively find ways to prevent people from attempting to risk their lives to lead such an uncertain and illegal life in a faraway country.
*Tran Long is a Vietnamese journalist.