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UK Anti-Slavery Drive Must Stop Victims Before They Leave Vietnam: Activists

FILE - Vietnamese American Minh Dang, whose parents sold her for sex from age 10, is a member of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. (S. Herman/VOA)
FILE - Vietnamese American Minh Dang, whose parents sold her for sex from age 10, is a member of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. (S. Herman/VOA)

Britain’s funding boost to stop people being trafficked from Vietnam and enslaved in brothels, nail bars and cannabis farms must prioritize people most at risk of falling into the hands of traffickers, anti-slavery charities said on Thursday.

The government this week pledged 3 million pounds to catch traffickers, help victims and prevent others from being trapped in slavery - as part of a drive to combat the crime in countries that are the source of slaves in Britain, from Nepal to Nigeria.

Vietnam consistently ranks as one of the top three source countries for victims of modern slavery in Britain. Most victims are women and children, who are often forced to work in cannabis cultivation and nail bars, and also trapped in prostitution.

“Prevention is truly the only way to make a difference,” Mimi Vu, advocacy director of the U.S.-based Pacific Links Foundation said by phone from Vietnam.

“Once the money is handed over to the traffickers, it is too late,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Even if you stop a victim in Vietnam at the airport, they are already committed in their mind... They are dreaming of making it abroad, and carrying the hopes of their families.”

At least 13,000 people are estimated by the government to be victims of forced labor, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude - but police say the figure is the tip of the iceberg.

Britain last month vowed to double its aid spending on global projects fighting slavery to 150 million pounds, with 33.5 million pounds for “high-risk” nations such as Vietnam.

The government must take a long-term approach to such initiatives, and work closely with authorities and activists in the targeted countries, said Justine Currell, executive director of anti-slavery charity Unseen.

“The money needs to be used sustainably, rather than just throwing it at issues in a superficial way that doesn’t fit in with the governments of countries such as Vietnam and Nigeria,” she said.

Britain’s anti-slavery tzar Kevin Hyland last month urged the government to develop trafficking prevention programs in Vietnam and to tighten regulation of nail bars - known for exploiting trafficking victims, mainly from Vietnam.

Britain is regarded as a leader in global efforts to combat slavery, and passed the Modern Slavery Act in 2015 to crack down on traffickers, force businesses to check their supply chains for forced labor, and protect people at risk of being enslaved.

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