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How Vietnam has become the new Albania with 1,323 flocking to UK on small boats in 2023

More Vietnamese migrants have reached the UK through the Channel this year than people from any other country. While the UK Government managed to reduce the number of Albanian nationals entering the country via perilous small boat crossings, the number of migrants from Vietnam has spiked over the past months.

During a press conference held on April 22 and focused on the Rwanda Bill, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “Vietnamese arrivals have increased ten-fold and now account for almost all of the increase in small boat numbers we have seen this year”.

Earlier this month, the Home Office had already blamed the surge in small boat arrivals on the rising number of Vietnamese citizens embarking on the dangerous journey across the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

On April 15, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman cited the “increasing number of Vietnamese” as one reason why Parliament needed to pass the Rwanda Bill, arguing it would help “save the lives of those being exploited by people-smuggling gangs”.

He added: “It’s an unacceptable number of people who continue to cross the Channel and that demonstrates exactly why we must pass this Bill and get flights off the ground as soon as possible and provide the important deterrent that the Bill will provide.”

The number of Vietnamese people making the perilous journey more than doubled last year, going from 505 in 2022 to 1,323 in 2023.

The increase has continued this year, making Vietnamese citizens the biggest cohort of Channel migrants, an undesirable title held last year by Afghans.

The arrival of Vietnamese migrants seeking a better life in the UK is not a new phenomenon, as highlighted by the tragic discovery of 39 Vietnamese nationals dead in a refrigerated lorry trailer in Essex in 2019.

As border forces both in France and in the UK have toughened security on lorries crossing the Channel, migrants started to consider small boat crossings as a more viable option, despite the dangers coming with them.

Vietnamese migrants are normally trafficked into the UK by gangs to work in nail bars, cannabis farms, restaurants and the sex trade.

Nusrat Uddin, a trafficking specialist from Wilson Solicitors LLP, explained why some of the Vietnamese nationals who reach eastern Europe to seek jobs end up deciding to carry on travelling.

The expert told The Telegraph: “Many then travel onwards through Europe, again under the false premise of better conditions elsewhere.”

Migrants coming from Vietnam may be asked between £15,000 to £20,000 to trafficking gangs to be taken to the UK – and are expected to repay their debts to these criminals alongside eye-watering interest rates.

Alongside paying back what they owe to the gangs, Vietnamese nationals seek to make money to send back to their family members who stayed behind.

While Vietnam has a booming economy, not everyone is able to reap its benefits due to a “huge surplus of labour”, according to Mimi Vu, an expert on anti-trafficking in Vietnam from Ho Chi Minh City.

She previously told the BBC: “Most of the migrants who go to Europe and the UK from Vietnam actually only come from a handful of provinces in Vietnam. In these areas there’s been a tradition in the past couple of decades of migration overseas, legal or irregular, in order to find work and then sending money home.”

In order to deter people from launching into a dangerous and costly trip, the Home Office launched this month a social media advert campaign similar to the one previously targeting Albanians.

The adverts use dramatic pictures of overloaded dinghies sinking in the Channel and feature testimonies from both migrants who have reached the UK and Border Force Officers.


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