Incomplete homecoming as Vietnamese trafficked to China escapes after two decades

By Nguyen Hai   May 18, 2018 | 01:30 pm GMT+7
Incomplete homecoming as Vietnamese trafficked to China escapes after two decades
Hoang Thi Yen holds her a daughter she has with the Chinese husband she had been sold to. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Hai

She got to see her family again thanks to help from strangers. But after so long, she does not see her future here.

Hoang Thi Yen can only speak Vietnamese at a slow pace now. She has not used the language for a long time; 18 years to be exact.

The 35-year-old woman, who was sold to China, has gone through a long escape journey to finally come home on Monday. Her arrival has been a big event to her poverty-stricken hometown in the central province of Nghe An, one filled with tears, questions and confusion.

There has been a lot for her to process: giving lost hugs to her old mother, telling stories to curious neighbors and making sure that her two daughters, who she has with the Chinese man that bought her, do not feel lost in all the Vietnamese conversations.

Yen, the eldest child in her family, dropped out during elementary school as her parents could not afford the cost. In 2001, her life turned a complete different page when a relative asked her to come to Hanoi. "I thought it was a fun trip, so I followed," she said.

It was not. When the relative gave her to a group of strangers, Yen realized she had become a trafficking victim. They put her on a bus, drove for several days to cross the border to China. She fell unconscious during the journey and woke up in Fujian, where the traffickers brought her to a 24-year-old Chinese man, and he let her know that she was his wife.

Yen said the first days were hard as she spent most of the time crying. Her comfort was the "husband" did not beat her like in many stories of human trafficking she had been told. "He tried to calm me down and he helped me learn Chinese. When I could understand him, he told me that he could not let me go because he had spent a large sum of money to buy me."

He kept her at home and locked the door anytime he went out, Yen said. "I was depressed. I thought about death many times." Yet, she decided she had to see her family again.

Her shabby house in a poor village in Thanh Chuong District in the central province of Nghe An. Photo by Vnexpress/Nguyen Hai.

Hoang Thi Yen stands inside her shabby house in a poor village in Thanh Chuong District in the central province of Nghe An. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Hai

Two years later, she gave birth to a girl. When the baby was three years old, she was allowed to work at a factory and had much more time out of the house. “I had thought about taking my daughter to run away. But I did not know the ways around and had no money," Yen said.

She never stopped trying. One time she met a Vietnamese woman who came to Fujian to visit relatives and wrote a letter for that woman to bring home for her parents. The parents received the note but they could not afford to launch a search mission.

In 2014, after Yen gave birth to the second daughter, she asked her husband again for permission to visit her parents, but he refused, fearing that she would not come back. His family wanted her to give birth to at least one son to continue their family lineage.

So Yen decided to leave secretly. Earlier this month, after saving 500 yuan ($78), she decided to take her two children and hop on a bus to travel to Vietnam. With the little amount of money, she couldn’t afford to pay for the trip but luckily met a Chinese language teacher from Vietnam named Luu Bich Ngoc, who offered to help by raising money from other passengers.

Ngoc posted information and the photos of Yen on social media to seek help from the public, and the story traveled fast. When the bus stopped near the northern border gate in the mountainous province of Lang Son on Sunday, a person helped her and her daughters cross the border despite her lack of identification papers. She traveled home in Nghe An, 500 kilometers (310 miles) to the south, on Monday afternoon.

There has been excitement and joy, but Yen said she is not going to stay. She planned to go back to China to live with her husband as her two children cannot speak Vietnamese, and she found it hard to make a living in the poor countryside. She didn’t tend to file a complaint against the woman who sold her to China as "it happened so long ago."

Nguyen Thi Ly, her mother, said she would support Yen if she wants to go back to China. “I never thought I would see my daughter again. Now that I have, I am satisfied," Ly said.

Nguyen Thi Ly, Yens mother, said the family would stand by Yen if she wants to go back to China to live with her husband. Photo by Vnexpress/Nguyen Hai.

Nguyen Thi Ly, Yen's mother, said the family would stand by Yen if she wants to go back to China to live with her husband. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Hai

Yen is among thousands of Vietnamese victims of human trafficking which has shown no signs of abating despite stringent efforts made by the Vietnamese government and international community.

The Vietnamese government has reported a 13 percent increase in the number of human trafficking victims in 2016.

Most of the victims were uneducated women and children from poor areas, including many from ethnic minority groups in Vietnam’s northern highlands.

They were sold to men seeking wives in China, Malaysia and South Korea, or just to bear children or work as prostitutes in these countries.

Many of the children were approached through social networks such as Facebook and Zalo, Vietnam's popular messaging app.

Besides financial difficulties, police officers also blamed negligence, easy immigration procedures and gender imbalance in destination countries as the major reasons for the increase.

 
 
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