Thao's* Story

*Name changed to protect identity

I grew up in a small village in Vietnam where everyone knew everyone. I lived with my mother; my father and brother had left years earlier and I hadn’t heard from them since.

It was my mother who encouraged me to leave Vietnam. She said the UK would provide a better life for me and that I would be happier and safer.

Our village was not a happy place. Plots of land were getting smaller which meant there was less income and people were struggling. All the money my mother had saved she used to pay for me to escape the country.

My trafficker arranged for us to walk for 10 hours from our village to the border. 7,000 dollars later I arrived in China, with a new passport, before we moved on to Russia. I was exhausted but happy to be away from the troubles in Vietnam.

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In Russia, I worked and lived in a clothes factory with 50 other people. I slept by my machine after working 14 hour days in the dark. I was caged and didn’t feel fresh air on my face for 6 months - it was like we were animals. We weren’t able to ask questions as there was a threat of violence, so we obeyed.

All the money we earned was paid to the traffickers. If anyone objected, they were beaten.

One night, we were told we had to leave immediately for Ukraine. Our route was through a forest for 20 hours; it was dark and dangerous terrain with little light. We stayed for a few days and were then ushered into a lorry in the middle of the night with no idea of where we were going. The traffickers covered our faces in black bags.

In the lorry I thought of nothing but my mother. I hadn’t spoke to her since the day I left and I had no way of contacting her. I didn’t even know if she was dead or alive.

I had dreamed of the UK all my life. I can’t believe the first time I saw it was from back of a lorry.

In Birmingham, I was forced to grow cannabis with other men. Some were Vietnamese but many were westerners. I made one friend and we tried to help each other when possible.

One day, when delivering drugs to London, the driver had a crash. When he got out, my friend and I saw our chance and we ran. I couldn’t feel my legs, but I couldn’t stop. I never looked back.

I didn’t know where we crashed, but we ended up in London. After staying in the area for a while, I spoke to a local man about what happened to me. He helped me speak to a solicitor, and I was referred to the Home Office. A few days later, I met my advocate from Hestia. She saved me. She has shown me that my life has value.

My advocate, along with the friends I’ve made here in the UK, have guided me to a new place. Living here in London has given me more stability than I’ve ever had before, and it’s helped my mental health more than I can say.

I now live with my partner and I’m beginning to build my confidence and adjust to life in the community. Once I receive permission to stay, I just want to do an apprenticeship and work. I’ve been taking English classes and have completed a traineeship in cooking. Being able to learn new things has really helped to build my confidence.

My journey has been perilous, but I’m on the right path. I’m looking ahead to the next chapter.