Organised crime gangs have turned Scotland into a hotspot for human trafficking victims from Vietnam.
The number of men and women from the south-east Asian country being kept as slaves has almost doubled in 12 months.
Statistics obtained by the Sunday Mail from the Home Office and the National Crime Agency show 59 Vietnamese were identified as victims of human trafficking in the first six months of this year.
That compares to 33 found being trafficked north of the Border in the same period of 2018.
Figures also show that of 188 victims found in Scotland in the first six months of this year, the biggest single group was Vietnamese.
Police released the names of 39 Vietnamese found dead in a refrigerated lorry in Essex last month. Ten teenagers, including two 15-year-old boys, were among them.
Jim Laird, human trafficking lead at Inverclyde Council in Greenock, said: “Over the last few months, there has been an increase in the number of Vietnamese men and women brought into Scotland.
“We don’t know why there has been this spike in the figures but it’s a matter of concern. Victims of human trafficking in Scotland, including those from Vietnam, are normally made to work in cannabis farms, nail bars, car washes or picking fruit. About 20 to 25 percent are women who are also being sexually exploited.”
Laird, a member of the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on human trafficking, added:
“We’ve no way of knowing how many containers are bringing people into the UK. If the people in Essex hadn’t died, we’d probably never have known about them.”
Last November, a team of Scottish police went to Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, to meet officials to discuss the worrying trend.
Detective Chief Inspector Rory Hamilton, of the National Human Trafficking Unit, who led the delegation, said: “We’re working closely with partners to ensure victims receive the support they require while we carry out our investigations to identify those responsibly.”
Labour MSP Jenny Marra, also a member of the cross-party group, said the Scottish Government must provide more resources to combat human trafficking and courts must hand out tougher sentences.