HO CHI MINH, Vietnam – Illegal Vietnamese immigrants have discovered new routes to Europe by traveling to some Latin American countries and fly back on layover flights with a halt in a European country, like Spain, before making their way to France, Germany or the United Kingdom.
Police sources confirmed to EFE that a small number of people with greater financial resources prefer the new aerial route to enter Europe.
However, the majority of the Vietnamese in search of better work opportunities take the land route through China and Russia, as was indicated during the probe into the case of 39 people who were found dead inside a lorry in Essex, eastern England.
Mimi Vu, an expert on anti-trafficking and human smuggling from Vietnam, told EFE that the Vietnamese go in groups posing as tourists to Panama, where they do not need visas for short stays, and on their way back, they use a stopover in Spain to stay there.
“Some may attempt to go to the US from Panama but it doesn’t work because US borders are very tight. So they get on a plane back to Vietnam but stop in Spain,” Vu said.
Once in the Spanish territory, they destroy their passports and stay at the airports for a day or two, mostly posing as children, using their youthful appearances to their benefit.
Vu said when they claim that they are minors, they are taken out of the airport and put in care centers and are not removed from the country.
“They usually let you go. Then a car picks you up to go to Paris and then to northern France” – a transit point to the UK where a significant number of Vietnamese live, he said.
“We know what happens because of our contacts with immigration officers from Europe and (we) get reports of Vietnamese who show up in Spain or other countries like France,” said the expert, claiming that she had interviewed dozens of Vietnamese trafficked to Europe.
The police sources said the illegal Vietnamese in the last one year have used other Latin American countries like Mexico and Chile as transit points to enter Europe.
They said around 100 Vietnamese filed asylum requests at the Spanish airports in 2018, claiming to be minors.
Vu believes that the figures could be higher as many others also obtain counterfeit visas.
The increase in asylum applications at Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas and Barcelona-El Prat airports pushed the police to launch investigations in 2018.
The Spanish Police said they arrested 37 members of an international gang for allegedly smuggling 730 Vietnamese into Spain to employ them at nail bars, the most common sector in which the migrants from the Southeast Asian countries are exploited in Europe.
The gang had earned nearly 13 million euros between January and December 2018. Its members would collect 18,000 euros from each migrant for their travel to Spain and entry into Europe.
In 2018, around a dozen Vietnamese migrants were denied entry who had landed at the Spanish airports via Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador and Uruguay presumably with valid visas.
Vu said it was impossible to differentiate between those traveling on legal visas from the people with counterfeit travel documents.
Counterfeiters reprint data found on stolen passports, modify and copy the electronic chips on the documents using a sophisticated system of chemical cleaning.
Spain is also a preferred transit point for those who opt for this method of entry using fake documents. They travel to Singapore and then to Spain, France, and Germany. The option is available for a price as high as $50,000.
According to experts, only a few thousand Vietnamese try to migrate to Europe while the majority, tens of thousands, end up in neighboring countries like China, Taiwan, and Malaysia.
Although millions of Vietnamese have come out of poverty in the last 25 years, the development has benefited largely urban areas only, leaving behind rural provinces that are frequently stricken by typhoons and storms.
Moving out for better lives often seems like their only hope.