Stephen’s appeal against being deported to Vietnam will be heard by the UK Home Office on 5 February (38 degrees)

More than 55,000 people have signed a petition to allow a teenage victim of human trafficking to stay in the UK.

The young man, known by the pseudonym of ‘Stephen’, will appeal to the UK government on 5 February to have his rejected asylum application overturned.

Stephen was trafficked from Vietnam to England when he was 16. A criminal gang held him for years in enforced slavery, forcing him to cultivate cannabis plants, before he was rescued by the local authorities in north-east England. Now aged 19, Stephen is in the foster care of a Christian family and has adopted their faith. But, according to 38 degrees, the campaigning site hosting the petition, his new faith “places him at risk of state persecution in his former country”.

Christians in Vietnam can face intense pressure both from within their own communities and from the authorities because of their faith. Christian groups are monitored by the government, which has, in recent years, handed down severe sentences to Christians for criticising the state.

Helen Goodman, Stephen’s MP and UK shadow minister for foreign affairs, described the government’s decision to turn down the asylum appeal as “grotesque”.

“It is shocking that the Home Office is proposing to send Stephen back to Vietnam. The prime minister has made a great deal of tackling modern slavery, but the reality of how a victim of human trafficking is treated is very far from the rhetoric,” she told The Guardian.