MPs hold government's feet to the fire over human trafficking

By Hoang Thuy, Viet Tuan   November 5, 2019 | 12:31 am PT
MPs hold government's feet to the fire over human trafficking
Cao Thi Uyen, mother of Cao Huy Thanh, who is feared to be among migrants found dead in a truck in the U.K. last month, cries as she holds his three children in their home in Nghe An Province. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.
Legislators squarely blame the government's weak management for the increased human trafficking happening under its watch.

National Assembly member Nguyen Van Hien said at the ongoing parliamentary session Monday that weak management of labor exports by the government had led to increased human trafficking of Vietnamese citizens overseas.

Information on labor export programs is to be found all over the place and those who want to register for them are not usually provided with accurate and updated information, he said.

Hien expressed his condolences to Vietnamese families whose loved ones are believed to be among 39 people found dead in a refrigerated container truck in the U.K. last month.

The cost for a person to apply for a labor program "is way too high and lacks transparency," he said, adding that many shortcomings remain unaddressed in the process of training a firm and granting a license for it to run a labor export business.

This, in combination with high demand, "has created conditions for many organizations and individuals to commit fraud. Brokers for labor exports can be found anywhere and human trafficking rings have a lot of room to operate in," he said.

On October 23, U.K. emergency services discovered the bodies of 38 adults and one teenager, suspected immigrants, in a refrigerated container truck at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex County, east of London.

U.K. police initially believed all of the dead persons were Chinese nationals, but retracted it later as reports surfaced saying several victims may be Vietnamese. Early Saturday (Hanoi time), they said they now believe the victims were Vietnamese nationals.

Vietnamese authorities, including a deputy foreign minister, have traveled to the U.K. to help identify the victims, many of whom were reported missing by their families as soon as news of the truck tragedy broke out.

Police in the central province of Nghe An, where 21 were reported missing, detained eight people during the weekend for suspected involvement in a brokering ring illegally sending people to the U.K.

Police in neighboring Ha Tinh Province have also arrested two persons in connection with the tragedy. They said their questioning of several individuals indicates that they were also involved in other trafficking incidents that have occurred over the past few years. 

Deputy Hien said: "It is necessary to make people understand that the activities to take someone illegally to another nation are serious crimes. We should not let Vietnamese people look at this as something routine and thus be easily enticed to join hands with the criminals."

Another deputy, Hua Thi Ha, cited official government data, saying 67 human trafficking are recorded in the first half of this year and 112 people were charged with the crime.

"Human trafficking is a complicated problem, especially in remote mountainous areas that are home to minority ethnic groups."

But the government has not provided a comprehensive evaluation of the problem, she said.

Commodities, not humans

Ha pointed to the boom in the business of selling newborns to China as an example, saying this was a new type of human trafficking that was "extremely dangerous." However, she added, the investigation of such cases and follow up action taken were far from adequate. Such behavior (selling of newborns) has not been analyzed properly by the government in terms of giving it a ethical and legal framework.

Earlier this year, an initial estimate by authorities of Ky Son District in Nghe An Province said 25 pregnant women, mainly belonging to the Kho Mu ethnic minority residents, had gone to China in order to sell their newborn babies to strangers for VND40 million to VND80 million ($1,720 to $3,450).

Some of them made it home safely with the payment after giving up their offspring, but some died in China and no one stood up to follow up on such deaths.

"When learning about this problem, I could not help but feel the pain of both the mothers, who are mired in poverty and a serious lack of knowledge, and the newborns, who are not treated as a human beings, but as commodities to be traded."

She said the trading of newborns does not just leave negative impacts on the ethics and lifestyles of the Vietnamese people but destroys the spiritual nature of motherhood, which could have serious consequences in the future.

She noted that the authorities were not able to intervene in time, because the mothers typically do not let anyone, even their husbands, know about the deal.

Vietnam's Penal Code only regulates sanctions against the selling and buying of those under 16. In the case of newborns being traded, the law is clearly clueless, Ha said.

She suggested the government soon completes a legal framework for preventing all types of human trafficking and equip itself with measures to press criminal charges against such behavior.

Deputy Ly Tiet Hanh raised a bigger question: Was Vietnam becoming a hub for cross-national crimes, given the fact that it has already been found to be an important transit point for international drug rings?

She asked the government to expand international cooperation on crime prevention to better manage activities of foreigners in Vietnam and those of overseas Vietnamese people.

"Regarding the painful case of 39 people killed in the container truck in the U.K., the government should review it thoroughly and come up with a comprehensive report on the human trafficking issue," she said.

Vietnam reported 490 human trafficking victims last year.

Some 70 percent of Vietnamese trafficked to the U.K. between 2009 and 2016 were linked to forced labor, with young people made to work in cannabis production and nail salons, a 2018 British government report said.

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