The number of people brought to Scotland against their will rose in 2016 as campaigners warned many were being forced to work in illegal drug cultivation.
Potential victims of human trafficking discovered north of the Border rose to 150 last year, an increase of 3.4 per cent, a report from the National Crime Agency (NCA) revealed.
The number was almost equally split between males and females and the majority were found to have been exploited for labour.
Vietnamese nationals accounted for 51 of the total, 24 of whom were found to be under the age of 18, while 30 were from China.
Gary Christie, interim chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, told The Scotsman: “The high figures for young people from Vietnam matches our experience that they are being exploited in Scotland for labour – particularly in cannabis farms and nail bars.”
“We need to make sure we tackle trafficking as a crime but also address the factors that push people into the vulnerable situations that allow traffickers to prey on them, and provide appropriate help and support to people who have been trafficked.”
In January, Police Scotland confirmed a 16-year-old Vietnamese boy found “cowering” in bushes in Dumbarton had escaped from human traffickers.
The teenager, who is thought to have been trafficked to Russia before ending up in Scotland, was found by a member of the public near Overtown House.
Last October, police in Edinburgh launched a campaign to raise public awareness of human trafficking. Detective Chief Inspector Alwyn Bell described the issue as “one of Edinburgh’s biggest hidden crimes”.
He added: “It is very difficult for us to give an accurate figure on the number of people trafficked every day.
“There is a constant flow of victims who come and go throughout the whole of Scotland.”
Human trafficking is dealt at both a Europe-wide, UK and Scottish level, with Police Scotland working with intelligence agencies and non-governmental organisations to identify traffickers and bring them to justice. Nine people were arrested in February in connection with an alleged human trafficking operation between Slovakia and Scotland, in a joint operation with Interpol.
“We can protect potential victims from harm by identifying and supporting them from the outset, working with partners in the UK and internationally, raising awareness and gaining confidence,” said Detective Superintendent Stuart Houston of Police Scotland’s national human trafficking unit.
“We are determined to improve the intelligence picture in order to gain a better understanding of trafficking in Scotland and the organised crime groups who are involved.
“Trafficking is exploitation and victimisation of vulnerable people.”
Large-scale cannabis cultivation in private residences has become widespread across the UK in recent years, with those left to tend the plants often brought to the country from abroad against their will.
An estimated 3,000 children from Vietnam have been involved in the illegal industry.
Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International’s Scotland Programme Director, said:
“Vietnam is far from being an idyllic South East Asian destination – we have serious concerns about the state of human rights including the fact that the media, judiciary, political, and religious institutions are all under state control.
“In these circumstances, it is understandable why some of Vietnam’s most vulnerable people fall prey to human traffickers who eventually bring them to Scotland.”