The Guardian

Trafficked, beaten, enslaved: the life of a Vietnamese cannabis farmer

At 10, ‘Stephen’ was taken from Hanoi to London and then spent four years tending plants for a brutal drug gang. Now awaiting news of an appeal against deportation, he recalls his horrific experience – and his lucky escape
Stephen (not his real name) has been told by the Home Office that he must go back to Vietnam, but he fears being trafficked again. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

Anyone who thinks the business of cannabis cultivation in the UK is a friendly, hippyish occupation, imbued with wholesome organic principles, needs to reflect on the experience of Stephen, a vulnerable Vietnamese orphan who was 10 when he was trafficked to the UK to work as an enslaved cannabis farmer.

Stephen arrived in Britain in the back of a freezer lorry, after a long journey on foot and in trucks from Hanoi, where he had been destitute and homeless. In Britain, he was locked up alone in a series of terraced houses that had been converted into cannabis farms, and forced over the course of four years to work as a cannabis gardener by the Vietnamese gang that had smuggled him here.

In many ways, his unhappy childhood has taken a very positive turn. At 16, Stephen was arrested during a drugs raid and police recognised him as a victim of trafficking. He was taken into foster care by a vicar in County Durham, where he has learned fluent English and taught himself to cook by watching YouTube videos. He hopes to become a

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