VIETNAMESE gangs, who have long controlled the UK’s market in cannabis production, are using teenage slaves from Vietnam to tend their illegal crops.
Human rights and anti-trafficking organisations are calling on authorities to tackle these illegal operations and crack down on drug gangs believed to be committing human rights abuses and profiting from slave labour.
In the UK, “cannabis farms” are usually relatively small operations, often located in inner city houses, which have been stripped and fitted with ventilation, lighting and watering systems.
These so-called “farms” are usually tended by one or two gardeners, who are locked inside the premises.
Their only access to the outside word comes through food deliveries and gardening instructions sent by the drug gangs.
A typical cannabis farm contains around 1,000 plants and generates profits of up to £500,000 (US$622,000) for the gangsters each year, such as the cannabis farm in Plymouth, which had been tended by Vietnamese “gardener” Van Nguyen.
Demand for cannabis across the UK remains high with an over two million people using it each year. Casual users are unlikely to be punished with anything more than a fine if they are caught with small quantities of the drug.
Vietnamese gangs’ control of the UK’s “homegrown” cannabis market is said to have risen from around 15 percent in 2005 to 90 percent. Looking to capitalise on the high demand for cannabis, Vietnamese gangs in the UK have been increasing the scale of their operations in recent years.
Last year, British police discovered large cannabis farms managed by these gangs in some surprising premises, including an ex-Barclays bank, a disused sports centre, and a recently-emptied medical centre.
Vietnamese drug gangs’ use of teenage slaves within the UK has been known to authorities for years.
In 2015 during a visit to Vietnam, then-prime minister David Cameron promised to crack down on the trafficking of children to work cannabis farms. However, the flow of Vietnamese children into the country continues without the prosecution of a people trafficker from Vietnam ever reaching the courts.
Criminal gangs had for years been using the “Calais Jungle” refugee and migrant encampment in France and its population of 7,000 migrants as a secret holding station to for Vietnamese children.
The children are kept at the encampment before they are smuggled across the English Channel to the UK and forced to work in “cannabis farms” where they were regularly subjected to sexual abuse.
“They are then being held and sometimes hidden in the encampment while the criminals wait for an opportunity to move them into the UK where they can be abused and exploited.”
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