Pandemic deters human trafficking to China, but fight far from over

By Viet Anh   November 29, 2021 | 07:32 pm PT
Measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic have also curtailed human trafficking from Vietnam to China, but traffickers are looking for other routes.

In the fall of 2020, when officials in a remote province in China began to check identities to combat Covid transmission, they found a 50-year-old woman in a poor family without any identity papers.

"It turned out she was a Vietnamese victim trafficked to China around 35 years ago," Dinh Thi Minh Chau, a senior psychologist at the Blue Dragon Foundation, a Hanoi organization that works to rescue trafficking victims, said.

The woman from northern Vietnam had agreed to go with a person in her village to find a job because her family was too poor.

She ended up being taken on a boat by a stranger and sold to a man in China, whose old parents had tried to save money for a long time to buy him a bride.

Chinese authorities decided she must be sent back to Vietnam as a trafficking victim. They contacted their Vietnamese counterparts for this, and Blue Dragon’s assistance was sought to bring her home.

Michael Brosowski, founder and co-CEO of Blue Dragon, told VnExpress International that the number of rescued people in China increased dramatically thanks to strict measures during the pandemic. Local governments checked every house to control the spread of Covid.

The stringent border control on both sides made it hard for traffickers to take people from Vietnam into China.

The 50-year-old woman was among 268 Vietnamese victims rescued in 2020 compared to 142 in 2019, the year before Covid began.

By June the number of people rescued this year was 149.

Human trafficking victim (L) reunites with her family member in 2021. Photo courtesy of Blue Dragon

A human trafficking victim (L) walks with her family member in 2021. Photo courtesy of Blue Dragon

But Brosowski said the fight is not going to slow down as traffickers are trying to "diversify" destinations, taking victims to various places within the country and Myanmar instead of China.

The number of people trafficked within Vietnam was 23 last year compared to three in 2019. In the first six months of this year the number has been 16.

According to Blue Dragon, there has been an increase in the trafficking of girls for commercial sexual exploitation, possibly due to increased economic vulnerability caused by Covid, which traffickers have used to their advantage in targeting victims.

Girls, mostly from the north central province of Nghe An, a few of them underage, have been trafficked to karaoke bars in Bac Giang, a rising industrial hub in northern Vietnam, Brosowski said.

In the first six months of this year 45 people were trafficked to Myanmar, a dramatic rise from three last year and eight in 2019.

Victims are mostly lured online and then sold as sex workers to karaoke bars in Vietnam or brothels in that country.

In early November Blue Dragon received reports that there might be over 1,000 Vietnamese women in Myanmar. It is working with Vietnamese authorities to investigate.

Brosowski said some areas in the northern part of Myanmar on the China border are lawless with crimes including human trafficking.

However, trafficking from Vietnam to Myanmar might have slowed down at the end of November after China closed off its borders with Myanmar, he said.

Blue Dragon said the people most vulnerable to trafficking are ethnic minority women and girls, many from poor backgrounds or looking for job opportunities.

Since 2005 the organization has rescued and assisted 1,633 victims, 1,160 of them from China.

Brosowski said it works with Ha Giang in the north, one of provinces worst affected by trafficking, which has a successful model in two districts that involves the setting up of "anti-trafficking boards" in villages and communes.

Their members are locals, and they hold monthly meetings to discuss if any person has gone missing. They then pass on information to the police, higher administrative levels to cooperate with Chinese partners to search for and bring victims back home.

Another model involves keeping children at school, Brosowski said.

Blue Dragon works with schools to visit students' houses to find out why someone dropped out of school, especially after holidays.

To address families' financial difficulties, it and women's unions provide them with some money or a cow or pig to ensure they have a livelihood.

In this way they seek to keep children out of the clutches of traffickers, who lure them with offers of jobs.

"I believe that if we implement these models properly, we can significantly reduce trafficking," Brosowski said.

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