Human smuggling and trafficking of Vietnamese people to Europe has increased over the last decade, with smugglers increasingly active in Belgium, a report by the Belgium Federal Migration Centre Myria published Wednesday found.
From May 2018 to May 2020, out of the 335 Vietnamese people illegally smuggled into Europe, close to 60 percent passed through safehouses in Belgium and France on their way to the U.K., the report finds.
“Because of its location close to France and the U.K., Belgium is an important hub for the Vietnamese smuggling networks,” said Stef Janssens, expert of human trafficking and smuggling at Myria.
The report also found that 28 victims of human trafficking with aggravated circumstances — which includes targeting minors and the use of violence or threats — enlisted in a counseling program in Belgium last year, 23 of whom were Vietnamese. This was the second-highest number in the past 10 years.
While the report focuses on Belgium’s role in human trafficking in the Vietnamese community, other important transit locations are also identified in cities like Berlin and Prague.
The issue of Vietnamese human trafficking has been in the spotlight since 39 people died in a refrigerator truck in the southeast English county of Essex that was on its way to Britain from Zeebrugge, Belgium in October 2019. Several of the victims were believed to have been illegally trafficked into Europe to work as forced laborers.
The Vietnamese criminal network responsible for the tragedy has been active in Belgium since 2018 and smuggled more than 150 people up until 2020, making around €7 million during that time span, the report finds. It adds that the smuggling continued after the incident, with transit prices for the dangerous journey even increasing afterward.
Human trafficking from Vietnam to Europe has become a growing issue in recent years. A 2017 report by the United Nations Economic and Social Council estimated that Vietnamese smuggling networks bring about 18,000 people from Vietnam to Europe annually, an illegal trade worth around €300 million.
“Victims are recruited with false promises of employment and often take on heavy debt. They are mostly smuggled into the U.K. in life-threatening conditions and have to work in exploitative conditions en route, including in Belgium,” a statement reads.
Due to the immense costs of their journeys, victims end up with huge debts, leaving them vulnerable to economic exploitation.
“We note that the Vietnamese victims are locked up in terrible conditions in safehouses, until the payment of their smuggling debts is arranged,” said Stef Janssens.
Myria also highlights the importance of victims’ testimonies, with a 16-year-old Vietnamese girl cited in the report saying that “in Greece, the head of the safehouse asked me if I didn’t want to sleep with him, by which I mean have sex. If I did that, I could leave earlier.”