Inside Vietnam City, the French holding camp for vulnerable UK-bound migrants

Hidden in woodland, camp houses up to 100 Vietnamese people allegedly on their way to work illegally in Britain

theguardian – by 

Chloe Setter, head of advocacy, policy and campaigns at Ecpat UK, which works on child-trafficking to Britain, said: “Vietnam is almost consistently the top country for adults and children trafficked to the UK and it has been well documented that there has been a ‘Vietnam City’ in northern France where many Vietnamese migrants pass through en route to the UK. Yet there appears to have been little effort made by the UK or French authorities to prevent or disrupt the trafficking of Vietnamese people to the UK, despite the known threat.

“It quite beggars belief that vulnerable children and adults have been allowed for so many years to live in an isolated makeshift encampment in a forest and left open to such a huge risk of exploitation. Such inaction renders the UK government’s purported tough approach to modern slavery pretty hollow.”

Mimi Vu, of the Vietnam-based anti-trafficking charity Pacific Links Foundation, has visited the camp twice in the past year. She said there were 39 men and one woman at the site when she visited in May. A few of the group were minors.

A disused underground nuclear bunker at RGQ Chilmark in Wiltshire, where a cannabis factory was discovered by police.
A disused underground nuclear bunker at RGQ Chilmark in Wiltshire, where a cannabis factory was discovered by police. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

“Everyone in the camp planned on working in nail salons in the UK, even though none had prior experience or training as nail technicians,” she wrote in a report on the visit. They had been told that it was usual “for men to be nail technicians in the UK, and that western women were used to men doing their nails”. There was disbelief when “we tried (gently) to correct these assumptions,” she wrote. All the camp’s residents assumed that they would find work easily in the UK and none wanted to remain in France.

Some were aware of the issue of exploitation in cannabis farms in the UK, but did not believe it would happen to them, Vu said. She believes that the camp has continued to exist under the radar because the migrants are not looking to work in France and are not a strain on local resources. Everyone is housed there temporarily until they are able to get on a lorry to take them to the UK. Most are there between a week and two months.

recent study published by the charity France Terre d’Asile suggests that most migrants in the camp are fleeing poverty in rural parts of Vietnam, where the average salary for people working in agricultural labour is £88 a month. Some have paid up to £33,000 to agencies to be taken to the UK to work. Others have been tricked into exploitation, and told that they will be given legal jobs in the UK.

Vietnam City camp in northern France
Everyone is housed temporarily at the camp until they are able to get on a lorry to take them to the UK. Photograph: Pacific Links Foundation

Local volunteers understand that the Angres mayor’s office has plans to demolish the unsafe buildings later this month, prompting concern about where the camp’s residents will relocate.

A spokesman from the NSPCC’s child-trafficking unit described the camp as “unregulated and dangerous”.

“Children being trafficked to the UK from Vietnam continues to be a significant concern in the UK and we must try to protect those we know are at risk”, he said. “There need to be facilities in place that can stop young people from falling into the hands of traffickers, who often deceive them with promises of a better life.


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