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Traffickers exploit vulnerable Vietnamese

Jack Burton



“Many young Vietnamese head for the cities or gamble on their chances in Europe, out of devotion to their families, to escape a life of manual labour.”

For a lot of Vietnamese, a job in Western Europe is seen as a path to prosperity and worth breaking the law for. And risking their lives. The risks are high and the consequences can be deadly, as the discovery of 39 bodies in a truck in England last week shows.

The victims were all Asian migrants who had apparently paid traffickers to smuggle them into the country. Now residents of a small rural Vietnamese community fear that two cousins were among the dead.

“I miss him very much,” said one father, who anxiously awaited word on his 18 year old son.

“That’s life. We have to sacrifice to earn a better living. He’s a good son. He wanted to go overseas to work and take care of parents when we get old. He insisted to go, for a better life.”

The boy’s mother recounted the story of her son dropping out of school in the ninth grade. He started working because they were so poor.

“He helped out by going fishing with his father. But fishing trips didn’t bring a lot.”

“He couldn’t find a job. That’s why he wanted to go.”

The family borrowed the equivalent of 17,500 dollars for him to be smuggled into France.

Families normally pay half the trafficker’s fee before the trip and the rest when the person reaches the destination. The boy’s family was never asked for the second payment, increasing fears he is among the dead.

Many young Vietnamese head for the cities or gamble on their chances in Europe, out of devotion to their families, to escape a life of manual labour, or a yearning for the trappings of wealth. But the journey of thousands of miles to Western Europe is dangerous, especially for women and children.

“There is a very high risk of sexual exploitation on the way,” according to Mimi Vu, who acts as an anti-trafficking activist based in Vietnam.

“If you’re traveling by yourself with a bunch of men, what do you think is going to happen? If they think they can make money off of you, they will.”

Safe passage rarely brings migrants real financial reward. Smuggling fees leave many migrants in a state of servitude or virtual slavery trying to repay the trafficking costs.

“The costs are typically 40,000 to 50,000 US dollars, plus interest, to be smuggled into England, and when they get there money is withheld from their meagre pay, leaving them with little or nothing.”

Paying off such debt can take years.

“There are legal and safe ways for Vietnamese to earn money overseas. They are not cheap, but they are less expensive than dealing with traffickers. Travel arranged by legitimate employment agencies ranges from 3,000 to 5,000 US dollars.”

SOURCE: Associated Press


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Jack Burton is an American writer, broadcaster, linguist and journalist who has lived in Asia since 1987. A native of the state of Georgia, he attended the The University of Georgia's Henry Grady School of Journalism, which hands out journalism's prestigious Peabody Awards. His works have appeared in The China Post, The South China Morning Post, The International Herald Tribune and many magazines throughout Asia and the world. He is fluent in Mandarin and has appeared on television and radio for decades in Taiwan, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

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