On Thursday (1 February), trafficked child ‘Stephen’, along with his foster sister Naomi Tomlinson and campaigners, including Bishop Auckland constituency MP, Helen Goodman met in London to deliver a petition to the Home Office supporting Stephen’s campaign to stay in the UK.
Following the death of his only relative when he was 8 years old, ’Stephen’ was homeless and living on the streets in his native Vietnam where he fell prey at age 10 to a criminal gang who trafficked him to the UK aged 16 to serve as a slave labourer.
He was rescued by the authorities in Tyneside and placed into foster care, eventually settling with Rev. Canon David Tomlinson and his family in Shildon.
Supporters from the campaigning website 38Degrees and ECPAT (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking), a leading children’s rights organisation, made their way to the Home Office where they met Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman to deliver the petition which, in combination with other petitions related to Stephen’s campaign, has been signed by over 116,000 people.
116,000 people showed they understand this by signing the petition. Let’s hope the Home Secretary becomes no 116,001
Whilst the Home Office refused to send anyone out to collect the petition directly, it was delivered to reception who are obliged to pass it on to the relevant parties.
Following the handover, Stephen and the team walked to Parliament where they received a brief tour before a meeting with Helen Goodman MP and representatives from ECPAT.
Stephen told his story, in which he described his life as being kept “in darkness” prior to being rescued in Newcastle while suffering beatings on a regular basis by his captors, often, he said “for no reason”. He frequently feared he would be killed.
Expressing his gratitude to the British public and those who have supported him he said: “I can never pay back what everyone has done for me. I want to work to help other people too”.
Ms Goodman spoke of a loophole in the law which has led to Stephen being in this position, the lack of consideration of an individual’s past once they turn 18 and the failure of the government to adequately support children and young people who have been victims of trafficking and slavery.
Ms Goodman said: “Stephen has been incredibly brave. He was orphaned as a child, lived on the streets in Hanoi and was trafficked through Russia aged 12. He was kept in the dark for five years tending cannabis plants and beaten. He was sold by one criminal gang to another.
“He is clearly a victim of trafficking and modern slavery. The Home Office refusal to grant asylum was riddled with errors. He should be allowed to stay because of his exceptional circumstances on humanitarian grounds. Here he can live a normal life with a family who love him and get an education.
“116,000 people showed they understand this by signing the petition. Let’s hope the Home Secretary becomes no 116,001.”
The meeting came to an end with promises and agreements from all parties on the next steps to support Stephen’s asylum application and to challenge the government to close the loophole.
Stephen’s foster sister Naomi said: “It was a successful day and with the support of the thousands of signatories, incredible charities and supportive MPs and we as a family are hopeful for a positive outcome after Monday’s court appearance.
“We’re doing everything we can for Stephen and for others in his position, they didn’t come here by choice, they were taken, abused and neglected and deserve a chance at a ‘normal’ life.
“Stephen is a part of our family, we care deeply about him and are determined, with so many peoples support, to win on Monday”.
Stephen’s campaign petition remains open and can be signed here.