Why Vietnamese people risk being trafficked to get a new life in the UK

Change in Vietnam has been rapid.

In the 1980s, recovering from decades of war fighting off France, America, China, and Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, it was one of the poorest countries on the planet. Then the collapse of the Soviet Union left the Socialist Republic of Vietnam even more isolated.

Yet, somehow this nation has rebuilt to become one of the world’s fastest growing economies - and it has consistently been there for the last decade.

Boom time is here.

But not all Vietnamese have been able to swap their bicycles for luxury cars. The disparity between the neon lights of the city, and life in the paddy fields is also growing.

It is no coincidence that everyone here who has been reported missing so far, believed to be among the dead in the Essex lorry, came from Nghe An and Ha Tinh - two of Vietnam’s most rural and poorest provinces.

To understand why they all left here, we have followed the route of Vietnam’s missing migrants - beginning with Nguyen Dinh Luong, from Ha Tinh.

Luong’s father spoke of his son's European aspirations. Credit: ITV News

“My son wanted to go to Europe," Luong’s father, Gia, tells me.

"Our family is big and we are poor. Luong had seen many other people from this area make this journey and send money home, so he wanted to be like them.”

Few from these provinces can afford the airfare, but even if they could, there’s little chance of them qualifying for a UK entry visa and going legally -just look at the number of documents as well as proof of regular income required and ask how on Earth a Vietnamese farmer could ever hope to have a successful application.

It is also worth noting that paying for a job is an unofficial custom for many industries in Vietnam. It's seen as an investment to pay a 'bribe' in return for employment because within time your salary will cover the costs.

Therefore, it is less surprising to know Vietnamese people are willing to pay smugglers who promise a well-paying job awaits on the other side - they'll pay off the debt within a year or two, and transform their family's future.

Many have been left behind by the rapid growth of Vietnam. Credit: ITV News

A woman I met in Nghe An told me her husband is now working in a nail bar sending money home, but going with smugglers was her family’s only realistic route. She asked me not to name her in fear her husband could be identified and deported.

"We borrowed thirty thousand pounds and my husband left home four months ago - one month before our baby girl was born," she told me.

“There is a danger but is worth the risk. My husband works a lot and now earns about ten times more in that job than he could if he stayed here. He is paying off the debt we owe, and also sends money back. His sacrifice has already given our family a much better life.”

After paying the smugglers, there are different routes to the UK. Most are sent through China, Russia, Romania, or Germany. Many will be asked to stop for months and work until they're taken to the next destination. But for reaching the UK, it seems all roads lead to France first.

Huddled round a camp fire in Lille, we found Vietnamese men - also from Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces - waiting in the woods for their chance to cross the channel.

“We heard what happened to the 39," one of them said.

"They had bad luck. We still want to go to the UK - we can only hope our fate is different.”

ITV News filmed with people from Vietnam in the UK illegally several years ago. Credit: ITV News

Three years ago, I saw the fate awaiting many who do complete the journey.

A group of Vietnamese males were working in a nail bar in Kirkcaldy - none of them had passports or visas.

One of them told me he was 17. He didn't even know what country he was in: he thought he was in England, not Scotland. He also said he was currently living in a single room shared with the two adult men.

Police said they were obliged to involve social services given his age and vulnerability. But the boy didn’t see it as being helped - he wanted to stay in these conditions, and just be left alone to work.

“I don’t want to go back to Vietnam,” he pleaded.

"Don't send me back."

This has been called the modern day slavery, and there is a debt bondage involved. However, the truth is this is not that simple.

People smuggling is a cruel and deadly industry that preys on poverty. It is now in the global spotlight after the 39 people were found dead in that lorry in Essex.

Vietnam is still in shock, with families here in the dark over whether their loved ones are alive or dead after not hearing from them for a week.

However, the shock has not curbed the enthusiasm of those who believe a job in the UK is like a winning lottery ticket. And there are still plenty in these northern central provinces of Vietnam who believe that the risks are worth it if the reward is never knowing poverty again.