LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An anti-slavery charity is looking for Premier League footballers to front a campaign to prevent human trafficking, which it says is destroying Vietnam's future.
Large numbers of Vietnamese are trafficked abroad every year, predominantly within Asia but also further afield, risking enslavement in nail bars, cannabis farms, domestic servitude or prostitution.
"This trafficking problem is one of the biggest obstacles to Vietnam's development," said Mimi Vu, advocacy director of Pacific Links Foundation. "The future of Vietnam is its young people, and we are losing our future."
Vu said trafficking was draining Vietnam of workers, and leaving a generation of children to grow up without parents, which new research from China indicated causes long-term damage.
"In Vietnam, they're obsessed with the Premier League," she said. "The idea of the campaign is to say, 'Who's your home team? It's your family, so stay with your family'."
Vu said Vietnamese pay smugglers up to $30,000 to get to Britain, lured by fake promises of lucrative jobs.
"They take decisions based on faulty information and the consequences are broken families, enslavement, physical violence, rape and jail," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation during a trip to London.
"The dream they have been told again and again is that the UK is the promised land. We need to dispel that myth."
There are no figures for the numbers of Vietnamese trafficked each year, but Vietnam is one of the top source countries for victims of modern slavery in Britain.
TRICKED AND DEHUMANISED
The football campaign is part-funded by a new British initiative to tackle trafficking in high-risk countries.
Britain's anti-slavery tsar Kevin Hyland recommended this month that the government develop trafficking prevention programs in Vietnam, and boost support for survivors returning from Britain, particularly boys and men.
Most Vietnamese trafficked to Asian countries are women; two in three of those trafficked to Britain are male, many minors.
Vu said current support packages for returnees were wholly inadequate, increasing the risk that many would leave again or become traffickers themselves, perpetuating the problem.
"Sixty percent of traffickers arrested in Vietnam are former victims," she added.
"Victims make the best traffickers. They've been dehumanized so it's not difficult for them to cross that line. They need money, they have the network and they know how to trick other people because they've been tricked themselves."
Vu said survivors needed one to three years' support to reintegrate, including treatment for psychological trauma and vocational training.
Pacific Links, a U.S.-based charity, runs shelters in Vietnam to help female survivors returning from China and Cambodia get back on their feet.
(Editing by Katy Migiro and Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)