Labor trafficking an easy trap to fall into

July 31, 2023 | 03:22 pm PT
Nguyen Hoang Khanh Tien Consultant
Although the British government has never signed any agreement to receive low-skilled workers from Vietnam, brokerage services are still busy advertising VND900 million (US$38,000) tickets online for a direct flight to seasonal jobs in the U.K.

Four years ago, a provincial police officer said: "No one spends a billion [dong] to let others trade them." This comment was made as police in Vietnam and the U.K. investigated the tragedy of 39 Vietnamese people who died in a refrigerated truck in Essex in the U.K. in 2019.

At that time, I was bothered by two questions: why the victims still went along while they knew it was illegal, and as they actively invested such a large amount of money, whether they were actually victims of human trafficking or not.

There are many ways to lure workers into the traps of human trafficking and forced labor; most of them start with a so-called dream job with a great income.

Tra My, one of the victims in the Essex tragedy, signed up for the U.K. trip with the consent of her family. The 26-year-old girl was arranged to go through a trip led by many agents in each country for about $40,000, divided into several stages. My had failed the trip several times, and kept trying again until the accident happened.

Staff at Noi Bai airport in Hanoi carry a coffin of one of 39 human trafficking victims who died in a U.K. container truck, February 2020. Photo by Vietnam News Agency

Staff at Noi Bai airport in Hanoi carry a coffin of one of 39 human trafficking victims who died in a U.K. container truck, February 2020. Photo by Vietnam News Agency

My determination represents communities that firmly believe they can change the financial situation of their family and hometown by illegal labor migration to the U.K. and Europe.

Some "billionaire villages" in the poor central provinces of Nghe An and Ha Tinh, built with money sent by the migrant workers, have become a success symbol for many local families to follow suit for decades.

The communities bet large amounts of borrowed money to fund the trip, even though they know that the route is illegal and dangerous.

According to a 2017 report by the U.N. Economic and Social Council, human trafficking rings brought about 18,000 Vietnamese workers like My each year to Europe via illegal routes.

Some 42 Vietnamese people who had to swim across a river to escape from a casino on the Cambodian border in August 2022 tell a different story. They were victims of an emerging trend of social media-based transnational job brokerage scams that target young workers who are not able to verify travel and employment information.

They make decisions based solely on the advice of recruits about "high-paying jobs."

In both cases, whether deceived or actively trying to go, they are victims of human trafficking. They deserve condemnation, but they also deserve pity. Because once they have chosen to migrate with illegal elements, they will be abused for their weakness, and will be controlled and exploited.

According to the International Labor Organization framework, human trafficking victims' weaknesses include debts, dependence on employers for accommodation and employment, lack of knowledge of the law and foreign languages. The workers would be forced to work overtime, and even without payments.

One of the urgent solutions to this cross-border problem is to provide timely assistance to the returning victims and survivors. Identifying workers in labor smuggling/trafficking rings as victims is a humane approach. According to the Vietnamese investigation agencies, 60% of the agents in human trafficking rings were once victims, so protecting the victims will also help reduce the possibility of them becoming a trafficker in the future.

Another important solution is to gradually raise awareness about civic dignity, forced labor and human trafficking for each family in the community, because any appreciation for the economic achievements of people who have worked illegally abroad is beneficial for human trafficking.

Each individual who is aware of the potential risks will protect themselves against the trap of "easy high-paying jobs."

Furthermore, it is necessary for the whole community not to be indifferent to the traffickers of their own compatriots with timely denunciations.

July 30 of this year marked 10 years since the United Nations and countries around the world, including Vietnam, have jointly fought against human trafficking. This year's theme is about leaving no victim behind.

It must be recognized that human trafficking is a serious crime, and that migrant workers are not, under any circumstances, a commodity for exchange.

*Nguyen Hoang Khanh Tien is a community development consultant.

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