Trafficked Boys' and Young Men's Adviser

'A day in the life of the Trafficked Boys' and Young Men's Adviser'

On Monday I travelled to a Young Offender’s Institute in the north of the country to meet a young person from Vietnam. The staff at this institute have worked with many foreign nationals and are aware of how difficult it can be for these young people to access support. They have reached out to the third sector to increase their own awareness  of the issues facing the young people in their care. This is not true of many other facilities. 

Hoang is just 15. He is serving time for production of cannabis and has been in and out of both juvenile and adult facilities due to disputes over his age. Most trafficked children come with either  no documents or with false ones. Ensuring they are looked after and supported as children can be a long, complex and overwhelming process. Hoang is withdrawn and hesitant to answer my questions and it’s little wonder. His contact with the authorities in this country has been almost solely punitive. Social services do not believe his age and so are not offering him any support. It becomes apparent during our 2 hours together that he is scared and confused and has little understanding of the processes he has been through.

My job, over the coming months will be to win his trust, to help him to understand his situation and his – albeit limited - options, to find him legal representation and fight for him to be recognised as a vulnerable young person who is a victim of crime and exploitation. I sense that Hoang finds it difficult to talk about his experiences and I don’t push him. Today is our first meeting and I know it will take weeks, maybe months, to earn his trust and encourage him to speak about what he has been through.

The Refugee Council Children’s Section has a strongly client centred approach. Our Trafficked Young People project offers long term support because that is what young people need. I am encouraged and supported to approach my work with patience and consistency, an ethos which I see the benefit of on a daily basis.

Hoang understands nothing of the UK immigration system, of the concept of ‘leave to remain’ or asylum. I briefly explain, not wanting to overload him with information that will mean very little to him at this stage. Towards the end of our meeting Hoang is anxious to know when I will return. Although he has not said much I take this as a good sign.

For my part I struggle to hit the right balance between getting him to understand the severity of his situation – Hoang could be facing deportation and will need to speak more openly about what has happened to him if he is to have a chance at staying in the UK – and helping to allay his anxieties and assure him I am here to help. Hoang’s reality is one of incarceration, exploitation, feeling isolated and alone in a foreign country and not really knowing why any of this is happening to him. It’s too much for anyone to deal with. Especially at 15.