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'Anything but normal': rescuer of Vietnamese trafficked to Cambodia

By Thanh Danh   September 7, 2022 | 04:40 pm PT
'Anything but normal': rescuer of Vietnamese trafficked to Cambodia
A group of Vietnamese workers returns to Vietnam from Cambodia through a border gate in An Giang Province, September 1, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Khanh
A man of Vietnamese origin in Cambodia has spent the last three years rescuing Vietnamese tricked into exploitation to his country.

Three years ago Chea Sok of the Khmer-Vietnamese Association in Cambodia's Preah Sihanouk Province was contacted by two women from Vietnam's Central Highlands who pleaded with him to rescue them from a casino in Preah Sihanouk.

They said a ransom would be paid by their families in Vietnam.

Sok, who is Vietnamese but has been living for 35 years in Preah Sihanouk, recalls: "At first I thought it would be a normal transaction: I would give the casino the money and bring the people back.

"But only when I met them face-to-face did I realize the situation was anything but normal."

He went to the following winding trails to a remote location indicated by GPS about 10 km from the city.

It was a house in the middle of nowhere without windows and with walls three meters high.

Ten people were waiting for him and his companion, all armed to the teeth.

Despite their previous agreement, the group said Sok could only take one of the two women and he had to pay extra for the other to be released.

He turned his vehicle around, pretending to leave.

Referring to their efforts to extort more money than agreed, he taunted the guards saying: "There are dozens of you and only two of us. What are you afraid of?"

They seemed to take the bait and after further negotiations allowed both women to go without demanding extra money.

Sok and his partner had to make sure no one was following them before they let out sighs of relief.

It was the first time he had saved someone from a Cambodian casino.

Since then, he and his friends at the association have helped countless Vietnamese escape from human trafficking dens and remain safe until they could leave for home.

The Vietnamese embassy in Cambodia said Vietnamese authorities have worked with their Cambodian counterparts to bring back over 600 citizens who had been tricked into becoming illegal workers in Cambodia.

But Sok said many victims of human trafficking rings also find a way to escape on their own without contacting Vietnamese diplomatic representatives in Cambodia.

For instance, just a month ago he had helped save a Vietnamese from a company by paying a ransom of US$4,500.

The victim's relatives in Ho Chi Minh City used their own contacts to rescue their loved one from Phnom Penh. They asked Sok to deliver the money and get the victim.

Sok says he has learned many lessons from his efforts to rescue people from human trafficking gangs. For instance, every time he travels to a site for a rescue, he tips off the location to both Vietnamese and Cambodian authorities so that they could provide support in case something goes wrong.

He says negotiations to guarantee victims' release are not straightforward, and "money alone is not enough to guarantee freedom."

The ransom is typically $3,000-5,000.

There have been cases of victims contacting their families and handing over all the money as demanded, and leaving their place of confinement only to find out they have been "sold" to someone else.

Sok says: "There are cases of people escaping on their own and fortunately being helped by locals. They know they are Vietnamese trying to escape trafficking, and always contact us for support."

He says the association helps victims find accommodation, complete legal procedures and inform relevant authorities. It also provides medical treatment for those who are beaten or injured during their escape.

According to the Vietnamese embassy, its citizen protection units receive numerous mails and phone calls seeking help to rescue Vietnamese who had been tricked into becoming illegal workers.

Sim Chy, head of the association, says human trafficking gangs mostly operate in provinces like Svay Rieng, Preah Sihanouk and Kampong Speu.

Thousands of Vietnamese are thought to have been taken to Cambodia in recent times to be confined and forced to work in harsh conditions and without the compensation they were promised.

Underage people are typical victims, and are mostly brought to Cambodia without proper documents, Sok says.

"Some bring passports, with tourism entry valid for only one month.

"There are also those who do not have any personal identification papers."

In such cases Vietnamese and Cambodian authorities need to contact local authorities at the victims' place of residence to verify their identity and tell them to provide necessary documents.

Only after that can the repatriation be done.

Sok adds: "I hope people in Vietnam understand just how dangerous these human trafficking rings are.

"When one travels abroad, including Cambodia, they must research information carefully. If there are any dubious signs, you should not go. There is no such thing as an easy job with high pay."

 
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