New 'safe house' set up by Sunderland-based charity City Hearts to provide home for survivors of modern slavery

A ground-breaking new ‘safe house’ has been set up to provide a haven for survivors of modern slavery.

The house, believed to be the first of its kind in Europe, is operated by Sunderland-based anti-slavery charity City Hearts.

It is planned to only accommodate male victims of modern slavery from Vietnam.

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City Hearts hopes the new initiative of offering accommodation that focuses solely on the needs of Vietnamese people, will reduce the number of clients absconding from support.

The City Hearts North East team (l-r) Louise Ridsdale, Alexandra riley, Allison Hilton, Lisa Wallace and Penny Moon.The City Hearts North East team (l-r) Louise Ridsdale, Alexandra riley, Allison Hilton, Lisa Wallace and Penny Moon.
The City Hearts North East team (l-r) Louise Ridsdale, Alexandra riley, Allison Hilton, Lisa Wallace and Penny Moon.

Vietnamese nationals are believed to be the third most exploited group in the UK (after British and Albanian nationals), and City Hearts said they are usually tricked by criminal gangs into leaving Vietnam with offers of well-paid work in the UK.

Traffickers target impoverished teenagers and young people in the country with promises of lucrative jobs in Europe.

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They are charged high ‘fees’ to be trafficked into the UK, where they are then forced to work in areas such as cannabis production or prostitution.

They are often controlled through violence, fear and intimidation, usually with no clue to where they have been taken, no knowledge of the language or culture, and told that if they seek help, they will be arrested or deported.

The criminal gangs also threaten to hurt their families if they do not comply.

It is this fear and disorientation that leads many Vietnamese survivors of exploitation to run away from the safe houses where they have been placed after being rescued.

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City Hearts Accommodation Coordinator, Lexi Cavendish, said: “Vietnamese clients often go missing from safe houses and are found very far away from where they were staying, which indicates re-trafficking. They have often being forced to grow cannabis or work in a nail bar for little to no money.”

Safe house coordinator Charlie Bentham added: “Usually our clients do not know the employment laws in the UK. They do not understand minimum wage, legal working hours, laws around immigration and working etc, for example in Vietnam, it is common practice to pay your employer, or work for free when you are being trained up. Contracts are not formally written up and pay is different.”

The new eight-bedroom house can accommodate up to eight people and will be overseen by a Vietnamese speaking caseworker.

Vietnamese clients who have been referred into the National Referral Mechanism (the Government’s support system for survivors) will be able to stay for as long as their NRM and asylum cases are being assessed.

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They will be offered practical support such as access to health care, counselling, and legal advice, as well as emotional support with opportunities to go on well-being trips, and take part in activities.

Senior Service Manager Allison Hilton said: “We are pleased to be opening this new safe house for Vietnamese male survivors of slavery. The house has been equipped and designed with all that’s needed for them to feel at home and have some comfort while they recover. By providing this service, we are confident we can lower the number of Vietnamese male clients that abscond by a significant amount.

“Our new caseworker has a great understanding of Vietnamese culture, values, and authority, which will be useful in understanding what our clients fear. Our other staff members have also worked alongside Vietnamese clients, and are able to provide an informed and holistic approach to each individual.”

City Hearts has offices in Sunderland, Sheffield, and Liverpool, and runs 16 safe houses for survivors of modern slavery across the north of the UK, as well as community outreach services, long-term support programmes, and initiatives to get survivors into paid work.

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