Away From Home: Nhung, The Reality of Life as a Refugee in the UK

Refugees are displaced people who have crossed national boundaries because they can’t return home due to well-founded fear of persecution. Some of the young, displaced people VYD works with, have travelled for nearly a year to make it to the UK and then, like the young man in this story, some can become enslaved and ‘owned’ by criminals – which is truly shocking and degrading.

VYD provides a safe, fun, non-judgmental, and inclusive environment for refugees to play the universal language of football. We also offer some places in local 6-a-side league teams that our coaches also play in, helping them to socially integrate in the UK. We will always be there to provide much-needed support and a space for enjoyment at what is a traumatic time.

Jacob Dillistone is a VYD volunteer with a particular interest in our refugee projects – formerly Manor FC and now called Away From Home – which runs on Tuesdays and Saturdays in Hove. He chatted to a young man, Nhung (not his real name) from Vietnam, who came to our sessions in February 2022.

My experience with Nhung, a young Vietnamese refugee.

Nhung, is a 16-year-old Vietnamese boy. He came along to our football session in January 2022. He was smiling, confident, and technically very good at football. For these reasons, it was extremely humbling to hear the horrific story that brought him and so many others like him, to our sessions. 

How did he end up in the UK?

Nhung was trafficked into the UK to work as a slave on a cannabis farm. He was kidnapped in Vietnam before he was sold on by a woman to a line of traffickers (I am unaware of how long he was held captive). He was found working on a cannabis farm in the UK when it was raided by the police. He was arrested, brought to the station, and questioned by the police. Early into the investigation, it became apparent he was enslaved and therefore it was decided he would be used as a witness in the trial against the criminals that enslaved him. 

This may seem shocking at first, but once he was given more freedoms, he immediately tried to contact those that had held him captive – unfortunately, this is very common. He was suffering from Stockholm syndrome. Due to being trafficked to this country from Vietnam at a young age, he didn’t have friends or people he could trust (he wasn’t allowed to leave his compound – working 14–16-hour days) and therefore depended on these slave owners to survive. He was confused, lost, and scared. It is near-impossible to comprehend how he would have been feeling at the time due to the continued manipulation he was a victim of at such a young age.

Because of this incident, he was now waiting to see what he was allowed and not allowed to do whilst in the UK. Most notably, it was being discussed whether he could have access to the internet as there were dangers of him communicating with the traffickers, whether he wanted to contact them or they were to contact him. It is likely that the traffickers/cannabis farmworkers still see Nhung as their ‘property’ and therefore it is highly likely they would want to gain contact with him to keep him quiet about their operations. Therefore, Nhung has been put into witness protection by the home office, and as brave as he is, he will be in constant fear of his life.

Nhung’s case is a far cry from the narrative pushed by the media and other organisations that refugees are coming to the UK to  “steal our jobs”; this is the reality for many refugees here in the UK. The future of children like Nhung relies on the good heart of the rest of society, those that have a depth of thought, understanding, empathy and, above all, humanity.

Please, if you’ve taken the time to read this, consider donating to VYD to help fund the sessions we run to provide these boys with positive memories and experiences in what is a traumatic time in their lives.

Note: we have used a pseudo name for the purpose of protecting the individual’s identity.

Thank you,

Jacob