May’s Story

May’s Story

Written by Michael Brosowski

Mrs Do and her husband An were working in the fields the day May disappeared.

When they came home for dinner, their daughter was gone.

At first they thought she might be playing with some friends. Or maybe she had gone to the nearby market. Surely she would be home soon, they told themselves.

But May had vanished. As night set in, their only child did not return and a deep panic gripped Do and An. Every parents’ worst nightmare had come to life in their tiny village, high up in the mountains of north-central Vietnam.

This is the reality of human trafficking: lives turned upside down, families destroyed, childhoods stolen. And this is why we must continue to fight against trafficking and slavery in all its forms, wherever it exists.

Michael Brosowski Not For Sale Vietnam Director

The rumours and speculation began almost immediately. May was not the only person missing: a woman from a neighboring house was also gone. Was there a connection?

Gradually it became clear that May had been visited by the neighbor, and that they went together to the bus station. The police set out to find them, but they were long gone and nobody knew where they went.

May had been taken by a trafficker. It was 2009.

The inexplicable loss of their daughter destroyed Do and An. They blamed themselves: if only they hadn’t left May alone. If only they had asked a relative to look after her. If only they had told her to stay inside and not go out with anyone. If only they had taken her to the fields that day…

They searched and searched, but found nothing. Was May taken to China? Or to Laos, which is not far from their village? Was she even alive?

As the days turned into weeks and months, Do and An were torn between grieving their daughter and hoping she would come home unharmed. Needing to dull the pain, An turned to drugs, finding relief in the numbness and punishing himself for his failure as a father.

May’s mother wanted to believe that all was not lost. For the first five years, she spent every Lunar New Year at the bus station, hoping that a bus would pull up and May would step down into her arms. But after five years, she could take it no more. Do went to the bus station one last time and boarded a bus to Ho Chi Minh City. She could no longer torture herself with hope and watch her husband slowly kill himself with heroin.

The years passed, and still there was no news of May. At one time Do, working in the south of Vietnam, heard that the neighbor who took her daughter was now living in Laos. An continued to descend further into his addiction, until finally he was arrested and sent to a drug rehab centre.

And then, a miracle: in July this year, May made contact through social media.

After 11 years in slavery – first as a wife and then resold into domestic servitude – she finally met someone who showed sympathy and gave her a smartphone. May went online to search for her family. She couldn’t locate her parents, but found an old school friend who raised the alarm.

Not For Sale Vietnam partners Blue Dragon sent a team to find and repatriate May in early August. Her rescue was further complicated by the travel restrictions caused by COVID-19, but we got her back to Vietnam safely and she entered mandatory quarantine along the border.

Mrs Do could not believe it. May’s return to Vietnam had seemed impossible. As soon as we told her that May was alive and safe, she left her home of the past six years and returned to her village to await May’s release from quarantine.

May was 12 when she was taken – a girl wondering what joys life would hold for her. Today she is 23 and has already lived through more terror and fear than most of us will know in all our lives.

But she is home. On Saturday, May and her mother Do held each other for the first time in over a decade. In that moment, all the pain they have been through was washed away.

This is not a happy ending – not yet, anyway. We will work with May and her mother to set things right: to find the trafficker, wherever she is, and bring her to justice. To reunite May with her father An, so that his pain too can find some release. And to give May a chance at having the life she deserves.

It will be a long, long road to healing. Much of what May and her family has lost can never be recovered.

This is the reality of human trafficking: lives turned upside down, families destroyed, childhoods stolen. And this is why we must continue to fight against trafficking and slavery in all its forms, wherever it exists.

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Morphing

Morphing

Written by Michael Brosowski

Has COVID-19 slowed down the global trade in human beings?

With the world reeling from the impact of the coronavirus, we should be seeing a glimmer of hope in this fight against trafficking.

After all, in this current situation the movement of people is much more difficult. If ever there was a time that trafficking would slow down it would be now… right?

Except that it’s not. Trafficking IS much more difficult at the moment, so traffickers are finding new ways to exploit people.

Instead of trafficking ending, it’s morphing.

Ending human trafficking may take many years. We must be relentless and ever on guard. Organisations set up to fight trafficking must be agile by design, ready to shift and change gears just as the traffickers do.

Michael Brosowski Not For Sale Vietnam Director

In the past 4 months, Not For Sale Vietnam partners Blue Dragon have assisted 7 pregnant women who were being trafficked to China for their babies to be taken and sold.

This week, Vietnam’s border guards intercepted a ring that was taking 6 pregnant women.

What’s the big picture here? It seems that the traffickers have done their own ‘strategic pivot’ to keep up with the changing times. It may be harder to sell women, but they can more readily sell babies.

We’ve come across surrogacy trafficking before, but what we’re seeing now is more consistent and targeted. It’s looking like a surge in this form of exploitation is underway.

And separately to the trafficking of pregnant women, we have seen a sudden spike in underage girls being taken from rural villages – usually ethnic minority communities – and sold within Vietnam to brothels, or to businesses that are fronts for brothels.

These incidents show us that traffickers just won’t stop. They will keep adapting, keep finding new ways to harm people, keep exploiting loopholes.

And that might make the fight against trafficking sound hopeless, but it’s not.

As long as the traffickers morph, we must too. For every loophole that they find, we have to close it.

Ending human trafficking may take many years. We must be relentless and ever on guard. Organisations set up to fight trafficking must be agile by design, ready to shift and change gears just as the traffickers do.

And we need a whole range of actions to intervene, not just a single approach. Families and communities need opportunities for employment and education, support to escape poverty, and assistance to bring trafficked people home and to heal. Governments need support for legal reform and for training those who are in a position to make a difference – like police and community leaders.

Combating human trafficking is complex and dynamic. What worked yesterday may not work today.

The traffickers can keep morphing, but so can we. And if we continue to adapt to the constant changes, we will win this fight against human trafficking.

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May’s Story

Mrs Do and her husband An were working in the fields the day May disappeared. When they came home for dinner, their daughter was gone. At first they thought she might be playing with some friends.

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Morphing

Has COVID-19 slowed down the global trade in human beings? With the world reeling from the impact of the coronavirus, we should be seeing a glimmer of hope in this fight against trafficking. After all, in this current situation the movement of people is much more...

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Lockdown

Ha had been trafficked and sold; every moment of her life was terrifying. Then her city went into a pandemic lockdown, and suddenly everything became worse. Before all this, a ‘lockdown’ happened during terrorist incidents and bomb scares. Now they’re a part of...

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Lockdown

Lockdown

Written by Michael Brosowski

Ha had been trafficked and sold; every moment of her life was terrifying. Then her city went into a pandemic lockdown, and suddenly everything became worse.

Before all this, a ‘lockdown’ happened during terrorist incidents and bomb scares.

Now they’re a part of everyday conversation. There’s a headline every day: city lockdown, neighborhood lockdown, national lockdown, border lockdown.

For some, lockdown is inconvenient. For others, it’s deadly.

Whatever comes next, though, Ha has surely been through the worst that life has to offer. She is no longer a victim; she is a survivor.

Director of Not For Sale Vietnam

Both Vietnam and China have had lockdowns. This restriction on movement has been essential in keeping people safe from the coronavirus. And it’s made life a living hell for people who are trapped in slavery.

In early July, Not For Sale Vietnam partners Blue Dragon rescued Ha, a young woman who was taken into China just over 12 months ago.

Her story is similar to the hundreds we’ve heard before: she thought she knew the trafficker, thought he was a friend, believed she was on her way to a job.

What happened to her in China was particularly terrifying. She was sold to a violent man but refused to comply; she fought back, and was punished severely for it. The trafficker returned and sold her to another man; and then another.

Each time she was sold, Ha’s nightmare escalated. And when COVID-19 caused the city to be locked down, Ha found herself trapped inside an apartment around the clock with the latest horrid man who was bent on forcing her into submission. The only act of rebellion left to her was to steal a telephone and call back to Vietnam for help.

Taking someone’s phone and calling home in secret is an extremely dangerous act. Had she been discovered, she could have been beaten brutally. We know of women who have been killed for trying to escape.

It was in April that she first called; Ha was among 30 women and girls whose desperate SOS came to us in the most awful of circumstances, when there was little we could do to get them to immediate safety.

Now that the lockdowns have eased, we are bringing them home one by one. Blue Dragon’s rescue team reached Ha and brought her back across the border as soon as travel was possible. In accordance with the law, she went straight to quarantine.

A lockdown of a different kind, but this time Ha was safe.

Over the weekend, Ha’s quarantine period came to an end. She is now free to reunite with her family and start over. We picked her up from the quarantine centre and brought her to a safe house where she can receive counselling, medical treatment, and legal advice before returning to her hometown when she’s ready.

Ha’s year of terror will always be there; nothing can erase the scars of slavery altogether.

Whatever comes next, though, Ha has surely been through the worst that life has to offer. She is no longer a victim; she is a survivor.

Ha has survived a lockdown of the most terrifying kind. She is free today because she refused to accept her fate and took a chance to call for help.

We cannot stop working until every person – child or adult – has their freedom as Ha does

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A Shocking Revelation

A Shocking Revelation

Written by Michael Brosowski

Anh’s rescue seemed like a miracle.

But at the time she crossed the border back into Vietnam, none of us knew that even greater surprise was yet to come.

Anh was taken and sold to a trafficking ring when she was 13, and has spent the last 5 years trapped in a forced marriage in the Chinese Inner Mongolia autonomous region, almost 5,000 km from her home on the south coast of Vietnam.

Not For Sale Vietnam partners Blue Dragon freed Anh from her captors in a particularly challenging rescue over a month ago. The distances involved, with the added complication of the coronavirus pandemic, made it seem almost impossible. 

This is the reality of human trafficking. Humanity is stripped from the victim; abuse upon abuse violates their most fundamental rights. And so often, it is those who are already poor and suffering who are most likely to be the target of this crime.

Not For Sale Vietnam Director

Once she was back in Vietnam, Anh’s first destination was a quarantine centre, and two weeks later she finally reached a Blue Dragon safe house.

When NFS Vietnam and Blue Dragon rescue a person from trafficking, we offer a full range of services: accommodation, counseling, clothing and food, and of course health care.

Anh’s visit to the hospital led to a shocking revelation. She was 8 months pregnant.

There was almost no visible sign that she was pregnant, and Anh had never even thought it possible. The man in Inner Mongolia who had bought her was sterile.

Anh was in shock. Having been held captive for the past 5 years, she has very little education and experience of the world. But she knew that some months previously she had been taken to a clinic and undergone an invasive procedure. On reflection, it appears she was artificially impregnated without her knowledge.

For this young woman, just going on 19, the discovery that she would soon be a mother was a massive blow. Just when she thought she could start to take control of her life, this unexpected development was the last thing she could have imagined.

But Anh is incredibly strong, and after making statements to police in Hanoi, she was ready to return to her home and be reunited with her mother.

Blue Dragon staff accompanied her home, meeting the family and along the way learning that Anh comes from extreme poverty. Her family house is made of empty shrimp feed bags stitched together and tied to a frame.

Anh and her mother, reunited in their family home after 5 years apart

Despite the incredible hardship and the shock of being pregnant, Anh was overjoyed to be home. Her reunion with her mother was desperately sad. They have missed such important time together and have so much now to make up for.

Just a few days after returning home, Anh started feeling pain. Her mother rushed her to the hospital where she gave birth – to twins. A boy and a girl.

At just 32 weeks, they are in a very fragile state and both in incubation. Their start to life has been everything it should not but they are alive and in good care.

This is the reality of human trafficking. Humanity is stripped from the victim; abuse upon abuse violates their most fundamental rights. And so often, it is those who are already poor and suffering who are most likely to be the target of this crime.

This is why we have to rid our world of this scourge. Anh’s story is far from over, and Blue Dragon will be working with her for some years yet. A wonderful family in the US has sent an incredible gift of $3,500 to pay for the care, food and medical treatment that Anh and her two children need; this will get them through a year or more.

In coming weeks we may put out a call to help rebuild Anh’s house, or help her buy land somewhere so that she doesn’t have to raise her babies in such a dire situation. We don’t yet know exactly what will be needed but this family deserves all the help they can get.

No matter how you look at it, Anh is the victim of some terrible injustices. While we can’t turn back the clock and stop them from happening to her, we can make sure she and her children have a future worth living.

And while we do that, we will continue fighting against human trafficking until every child, woman and man is safe from it.

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Mrs Do and her husband An were working in the fields the day May disappeared. When they came home for dinner, their daughter was gone. At first they thought she might be playing with some friends.

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Has COVID-19 slowed down the global trade in human beings? With the world reeling from the impact of the coronavirus, we should be seeing a glimmer of hope in this fight against trafficking. After all, in this current situation the movement of people is much more...

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NFS Vietnam – After lockdown, a narrow escape

NFS Vietnam – After lockdown, a narrow escape

Written by Michael Brosowski

Alang and Chue were glad to see the end of Vietnam’s lockdown.

The two young men live in one of the many isolated villages dotting the border region of Vietnam close to China. Now aged 19 and 20, they had grown up together under the magnificent open skies of their mountain home.

For them and their families, lockdown had meant severe hardship. With no work and no income, there was precious little food for 3 weeks.

But the end of lockdown didn’t mean their hard times were over. With businesses closed and the global economy in a slump, many jobs have simply evaporated. Alang and Chue worked odd jobs here and there, but it wasn’t enough.

So when they heard of a company that was hiring somewhere to the south, they reluctantly agreed to go. It was not an easy choice – but faced with grinding poverty, it didn’t seem like much of a choice at all.

While the lockdowns of COVID-19 have made life extremely difficult, this post-lockdown era remains a time of terrible vulnerability and danger.

Director of Not For Sale Vietnam

The friends were taken over 2,200km by bus to the southern tip of Vietnam. Once there, instead of being introduced to an employer, they were taken hold of by a fishing crew that was preparing to set out to sea.

Alang and Chue had been sold.

For several days they were held captive at a port and put through basic training to prepare them for life on the ocean. The boat owner threatened them with a gun, forced them to sign a loan contract, and then demanded that they agree to work off their fake ‘loan’ on his boat.

One of the other fishermen, feeling sorry for the terrified young men, gave them a phone. His whispered warning confirmed their fears: If they went to sea, it would be forever. They would not see land again.

Alang and Chue’s call for help reached Not For Sale partnters Blue Dragon, and by good fortune we had staff in the area working on another case. Within a few hours we were able to guide the friends by phone to escape and hide in a safe place until we could reach them.

The two young men are with us now and will soon be back with their families.

They’ve had a very narrow escape from what would have been a terrible fate. As mountain boys, they had no knowledge of the sea – neither can swim, and before this journey neither had seen a river, let alone the ocean. Surely they could not have survived long on the boat.

Alang and Chue can now get on with their lives, and we’ll see how Blue Dragon can help, but there are still plenty of traffickers out there looking for more victims.

While the lockdowns of COVID-19 have made life extremely difficult, this post-lockdown era remains a time of terrible vulnerability and danger.

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NFS Vietnam – The Chance

NFS Vietnam – The Chance

Written by Michael Brosowski

Phi ran away from home as soon as he could.

For 3 weeks, during Vietnam’s pandemic lockdown, he was inside his family’s timber shack with its dirt floor and asbestos roof, high up in the mountains of northern Vietnam.

Phi’s family is desperately poor, and what little money they have his father likes to spend on rice wine.

Within hours of Vietnam’s social distancing measures being lifted, Phi was out the door, down the muddy track, and on his way to Hanoi – a journey of almost 12 hours.

Aged 14, Phi had never been alone before. He was exhausted and hungry after weeks of not having enough to eat, but believed life would be better if only he could make it to the city.

Many kids come to the city thinking everything will be just great. It never is.

At a time when our world is bleeding, there’s such an enormous need for healing and care. Child by child, family by family, we have an obligation to help those around us who haven’t been given a fair chance in life.

Director of Not For Sale Vietnam

Phi spent almost 2 months begging and sleeping on the city streets before a Blue Dragon social worker met him. He lost count of how many times he was approached by pimps and pedophiles offering to ‘help’, but despite his desperation he was determined to stay safe.

After a few days in a Blue Dragon shelter, Phi trusted us to take him home. One of the social workers made the long journey with him back to his village; by bus, motorbike, and sometimes on foot when the road turned into nothing but mud.

With their son missing for two months, Phi’s parents had been beside themselves with worry. They reported to the police but had no information or idea where their son could be. They feared the worst.

Blue Dragon and Not For Sale Vietnam do offer homes to young people, boys and girls, who cannot stay with their families, but in the vast majority of cases, children and their parents are better off together, so long as they get some support to make it work.

For Phi, that means helping his parents understand how to better show their love for their son, and some practical help with basic needs as they continue to recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

It also meant a trip to Phi’s school, along with Phi and his mother, to make sure he could re-enroll and return to class immediately. Because his home is so remote, Phi studies in a boarding school, so he will live there during the week and go home for weekends.

The teachers have promised to look out for Phi and to check on him if he stops turning up to class. They didn’t know he was having such difficulty at home; now they do, and they’ve committed to making sure he’s OK.

Our experience is that once we have taken a child home and spoken with the family and community, home life almost always becomes much more tolerable for kids like Phi. Their suffering and their struggle becomes visible; the people around them wake up to their needs and take on the responsibility to care for them.

At a time when our world is bleeding, there’s such an enormous need for healing and care. Child by child, family by family, we have an obligation to help those around us who haven’t been given a fair chance in life.

Phi never asked to be born into extreme poverty, or to have an alcoholic father. He deserves the chance to make something of his life, so that his generation can leave behind a world that’s much fairer and just than the one they have inherited.

Phi is now safe and will continue receiving support from Blue Dragon and Not For Sale Vietnam for as long as he needs it. He sees that life has the possibility of something better. And Blue Dragon is back out on the streets looking for more children just like him, who are yet to get the chance that they need to turn their lives around.

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May’s Story

Mrs Do and her husband An were working in the fields the day May disappeared. When they came home for dinner, their daughter was gone. At first they thought she might be playing with some friends.

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Has COVID-19 slowed down the global trade in human beings? With the world reeling from the impact of the coronavirus, we should be seeing a glimmer of hope in this fight against trafficking. After all, in this current situation the movement of people is much more...

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Ha had been trafficked and sold; every moment of her life was terrifying. Then her city went into a pandemic lockdown, and suddenly everything became worse. Before all this, a ‘lockdown’ happened during terrorist incidents and bomb scares. Now they’re a part of...

read more