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Minhs case is one of the most disturbing stories

that Ive reported on in over seven years of doing journalism

on modern slavery and trafficking.

He was clearly a survivor of trafficking who needed support

and assistance rather than being criminalized,

detained, and almost deported.

It was a gross miscarriage of justice.

I still think it's staggering, even in 2013,

that police can go into a house, a locked house,

find a 16-year-old Vietnamese boy who speaks no English

and believe that he is there profiting from the cultivation of

all of these plants that they found at the top of the house.

Its a completely parallel world.

It's a completely parallel economy.

Its this shadowy second world that is happening all around us,

but we dont see it.

[Investigators]

My names Annie Kelly.

Im a journalist and an editor at The Guardian newspaper.

Since 2011, Ive been reporting on modern slavery and trafficking.

And I was running a project that was one of the first times

a global media organization had attempted to

really do some serious forensic reporting

into modern slavery and human trafficking

and trying to just understand what was behind it, what was driving it,

what kind of different forms it was taking.

My name is Ahmed Aydeed.

Im a public law director at Duncan Lewis.

I predominately work with survivors of trafficking, survivors of torture,

asylum seekers, refugees,

and those who cant afford to pay for legal representation

and who wish to bring a challenge against a public body.

There are more people in modern slavery now

than any time before.

I think many people think about modern slavery or human trafficking,

and they imagine people being tied up

or physically restrained or shackled to a radiator.

It doesnt work like that.

The psychological bonds and the psychological control

that traffickers are able to exert over their victims

often mean that physical force is not the first mode of control.

There are people around us now who are being forced into debt bondage,

who are trafficked from other countries into the UK

and forced to cultivate cannabis,

forced to work in brothels.

The nail bars, the restaurants, the car washes,

its a completely parallel world.

Its a completely parallel economy.

Its this shadowy second world that is happening all around us,

but we dont see it.

I came across Minh's story

as part of my wider reporting on child trafficking in the UK

and looking at those links between Vietnamese children

and the cannabis trade.

I was in touch with many lawyers

who are working on cases related to the criminalization

and detention of child trafficking victims in the UK.

In 2017, I was informed of Minhs case through a legal surgery.

And I was shocked that the summary that was provided by my colleague

in relation to what happened to Minh and why he was imprisoned,

which I thought from the outset

I could tell that there were clear indicators

that this was someone who was a victim of trafficking

and should really not be in detention.

Annie, Minh, and I sat together,

and we assisted Annie in being able to tell Minhs story

and explain how public authorities simply fail to protect survivors.

When I first met Minh, I met him in a safe house in late 2018

after hed just been released from immigration detention.

He seemed quite composed, but as we started talking,

it became very quickly clear of, you know, that mask slipped,

and you could suddenly see the child

that had been in that cannabis house three years before.

I started to build a story of what had happened to him

since he left Vietnam.

Minh was born in the mid-1990s in South Vietnam

in a really rural area.

His parents were smallholder farmers

who were really struggling to make ends meet.

He wanted to leave. He wanted to start making money for his family.

He didnt want to stay and be a farmer

because he saw that there was no future in that for him.

There is this idea that the UK is still

the place where you will be able to find work,

and you will be able to support your family back home.

Minh told me that he started speaking to a group of his friends from school

who were talking about work opportunities in Ho Chi Minh City.

He managed to raise the money for the bus fare to Ho Chi Minh.

So he left his family.

He said that he was going to be back in a few months,

but hes never seen them again.

When he reached Ho Chi Minh City,

he said he met up with his friends,

and they kind of kicked around the city for a few days.

And then these friends told him that they had met a group of men

that would be able to find them work.

His friends didn't seem to know these men very well,

and it seemed obvious that they had brought him to this house

as part of a prior arrangement with these men.

They told him that they could find him work in the UK,

and he had to sign a document saying that he would pay back 10,000 pounds.

He told them he didnt want to go.

He wanted to leave.

He then said that they got violent.

They beat him with sticks.

They sexually assaulted him.

They kept him in this room

in this house in Ho Chi Minh City for two or three days,

where he was consistently brutalized and abused

before he agreed to sign this piece of paper.

That was the beginning of his trafficking journey to the UK.

And he then said that he was flown to the Czech Republic

and traveled overland through Europe for a number of months

before reaching France and being put in the back of a lorry,

over the channel into the UK,

where he was then picked up and taken to a house in Derbyshire.

His recollections of that journey

paints a very, very distressing and dark story of what

children and young people experience on that overland route to the UK.

Two weeks after he arrived at the house,

they brought plants,

big green plants,

lots of lighting equipment.

And they essentially bashed this house

into a makeshift cannabis farm.

Minh says that the experience of being in that house

was a terrifying ordeal from which he doesnt know hell ever recover.

He was on his own.

He wasnt allowed to turn on any lights.

He was forced to grow these plants.

And he was constantly terrified that he would be killed

if those plants died.

Three months later, when the police finally raided the property,

amid the chaos of the police raid,

Minh said that he really thought that now he was being rescued,

that this was the moment that he would be able to leave the house

and would find a place of safety.

But instead, he was arrested

and charged with cannabis cultivation.

Im a supervising solicitor,

so what I did is as soon as I took Minhs case on,

we sat down together and pieced this case together,

and tried to find out what actually happened here.

My questions were: Why was Minh in detention?

Why was he criminalized? Why was he detained?

Why was he not assisted

at the point at which he was apprehended by the police?

From the point of being charged with cannabis cultivation,

Minhs journey into the criminal justice system was set.

And once youre in that system and once youve been criminalized

and you have a criminal record,

its so hard to get people out.

Its so hard to get those children identified as victims

once theyve already been criminalized.

I reported on Minhs story over the case of about a year and a half,

which culminated in a long read for The Guardian,

where we told his whole story from start to finish.

Throughout that time, I worked really closely with Ahmed.

I worked with Annie on this case

because this was a clear case of trafficking.

But there is a lot of misinformation out there in terms of the public,

but also in terms of the public knowing what the government does

when it comes across survivors of trafficking.

Annie and I got together and we went through the papers.

We highlighted all of the failings by public authorities

to pick up on vital information.

When the police raided the house in Derbyshire in 2013,

they failed to pick up on the indicators

that Minh was a victim of child trafficking.

Sixteen-year-old in a cannabis house surrounded by complicated equipment,

doesnt speak the language, locked in.

Alarm bells should have been ringing.

They then failed to relate that information to the CPS,

who charged him with cannabis cultivation,

and he was then sentenced to eight months in Glen Parva.

Minh was transferred to immigration detention.

He wasnt seen by a GP within the first 24 hours.

He wasn't identified that he was a potential victim of trafficking

or torture.

What happened subsequent to that is actually

Minh, when he was transferred to immigration detention,

he was sexually assaulted.

Instead of investigating that, Morton Hall, the immigration center,

failed to take any action to protect him.

There had just been a series of grave errors in his case

that had exposed him to years of illegal detention

at the hands of the UK government.

After seven years and twelve legal challenges,

Minh was finally granted the right to remain in the UK,

and he was finally granted international protection.

At the end of 2019,

when Minh had finally successfully appealed his conviction,

and it was then made clear that what happened years ago

when he was convicted of cannabis cultivation was wrong,

and he is, in fact, not a criminal, but a survivor of trafficking,

I remember speaking with Minh,

and he was really happy that he finally had his claim vindicated,

but also really sad in the fact that its taken so many years

just to simply right a wrong.

I was able to speak to Annie afterwards as well

and tell her the good news.

I mean, we were really happy and ecstatic.

I remember very vividly getting the call from Ahmed,

just that the joy and the relief that he felt, that I felt

and that Minh felt at this finally happening.

Finally, he was recognized that he wasnt a criminal,

that he had been a victim.

It's also bittersweet because you think of all the effort,

all the resources, all the time it took to get justice for him.

So it feels like, on one hand, its a really happy ending;

on the other, it just is a drop in the ocean

and that so much more work needs to be done

to try and help and get legal support

to people who really urgently need it.

Unfortunately,

we continue to see cases such as Minh on a regular basis.

And unfortunately, we continue to see survivors being detained,

criminalized, and deported.

It was a gross miscarriage of justice.

And what happened to Minh, both at the hands of his traffickers

but also at the hands of the UK government,

will remain with him for the rest of his life.

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