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'Help me, mother:' parents worried sick about trafficked children in Cambodia

By Quang Huong   September 5, 2022 | 05:48 pm PT
'Help me, mother:' parents worried sick about trafficked children in Cambodia
A casino in Cambodia, where 42 Vietnamese escaped from on August 18, 2022, stands across a river border with Vietnam. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Tai
It has been a torrid three months for Ba after she received a message from her 18-year-old son saying he had been tricked into working in Cambodia.

The mother from central Nghe An province does not know where in Cambodia he is, which company he works for and what his current situation is. All the information she has got is from discreet messages that are few and far in between.

"Before going to Cambodia, my son used to work in Bac Ninh province. It was only after he’d reached Cambodia that he realized that he’d been tricked. Now he is somewhere near the border with Thailand, near the Mekong River. He does not dare to make video calls for fear that the employer will have him beaten. They have detained him, force him to work 16-17 hours a day and beat him up. If he or other workers try and fail to escape, they will be brutally beaten."

Ba was so worried about her son that she was willing to pay a ransom of more than VND100 million ($4,246) that her son said can set him free. However, he said later that the employers would not let him go even for a ransom.

Now all she can do is wait for her son to be rescued after reporting the situation to the police.

"All I can do is tell him to take care of himself until the police come to rescue him. He took a few pictures of the location and the workplace, and I sent them to the police," she says. "For now, there is no news about him. I am afraid that he is being beaten. I hope the police and journalists will help save him, take him back to me."

Thuong, a mother in Ca Mau province, shares Ba's pain. It has become more and more difficult for her to contact her son.

Two months ago, she was horrified to learn that he had been trafficked to Cambodia. She is stressed out, waiting for his call and message, day after day.

"In June, my son went to Tay Ninh (southern province bordering Cambodia) to work. Two weeks later, he called me saying that he was working for a Korean company and staying at a hotel. The accommodation was very comfortable, he said. But about a month later, he said he’d been trafficked to Cambodia. A woman had sold my son to Cambodia for VND11 million."

Thuong said the employer in Cambodia was forcing her son to work on computers to trick Vietnamese people. If he cannot fulfill his task, he was beaten. He is forced to work more than 10 hours a day. If he wants to call home, he has to hide in a bathroom. If the employers catch him contacting his family, he will be beaten.

"A few days ago he called me, saying, 'help me, mother'. He said the employer required a ransom of VND200 million. It’s been five days since I heard from him. I texted him but he did not reply. I don't know if he is well or what is happening to him."

Fearing for her son's life, Thuong asked for help from groups on Facebook. Many self-proclaimed "knights" contacted her, guaranteeing they can get people trafficked to Cambodia out after paying some ransom.

After reading a number of accounts saying their family members had been rescued by these "knights", she sent them the money they said they needed to save her son.

As soon as the money was received, the knights also disappeared. "I was told there was a 'knight' named Hai in Binh Duong, so I contacted him. He asked me to meet him, but when I went there, he did not show up. Then another person cheated me with VND13 million. He only texted me and didn't show his face. After two months, I did not get any news and he did not return the money. That was when I realized that he'd tricked me," Thuong said.

Thuong has been cheated of VND20 million so far. Now, she is desperately hoping that her son is one of the 500 people recently rescued by the authorities.

"People tell me that 500 people have been rescued from Cambodia, but I don't know if my son is among them. I texted him, saying that I can't find a way to pay his ransom. I don’t have that kind of money. So I have asked him to wait to be rescued."

Hoa of Ba Ria - Vung Tau province longs to get her child back from Cambodia.

"He said he was traveling for work, as he used to, for 1-2 months, but he did not come back. Then he called me, crying, saying he has been trafficked to work there. I'm so worried that I get sick now. I'm afraid my son is suffering and is getting beaten. I cry every night, I can't sleep," Hoa said.

As worried as she is about her son, Hoa cannot afford the ransom of VND150 million. "I've been sick for two years. I sold everything I can. My daughter stays home to take care of me.

"My husband left when my children were 3-4 years old. Thanks to the government and some donors, my family has enough food and other necessities.

"I can not afford such a ransom. My daughter asked some people for money, but no one is ready to lend to us. I can't do anything but cry."

Many cases of human trafficking and bonded labor in Cambodia have come to light recently. A dramatic one was the escape of 42 people from a casino last month. They swam across the Binh Di River, the natural border between Vietnam and Cambodia, on Aug. 18. Forty made it, one was captured and a teenager drowned.

40 people swim to Vietnam after escaping from Cambodian casino

Vietnamese officials suspect there are thousands of people who have been tricked and trafficked into Cambodia, ending up as bonded laborers. They are held against their will on establishment premises and neither paid the salaries nor provided the working conditions promised to sure them.

The Ministry of Public Security issued a warning about the situation of Vietnamese people tricked and sold to casinos and illegal entities in Cambodia. Those who want to return home are being asked to pay $3,000-30,000 in ransom.

Instead of meeting the victims in person, brokers of these casinos and entities approach people in need of jobs via social media. They even give Vietnamese workers some money in advance to create trust. Then they ask the people to get to border checkpoints and guide them to follow unofficial trails across.

Later, when the workers start working, they collect brokerage fees.

While the public security ministry has warned citizens to be careful with job ads posted on social media, the Foreign Affairs ministry and Vietnam's representative agencies in Cambodia have said they will continue to coordinate with Cambodian authorities to repatriate citizens who have been tricked and to ensure the legitimate rights and interests of Vietnamese citizens.

 
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