Two years ago, Kim Anh, whose real name has been withheld to avoid deportation from Germany, faced a bad harvest in her hometown of Nghe An in northern Vietnam. With a family to feed and few prospects for work, she decided to borrow money to go overseas. She had been told by a local man affiliated with a Christian group that she could relocate to any country in Europe for U.S. $14,000. After securing the loans, she paid her fee and began an anxious period of waiting. When the time came for her departure, she felt nervous but knew that her success could secure a happy future for her family. Unfortunately, her journey took an unexpected and terrifying turn:
“I didn't think life here would be this bad. That's for sure. It's so miserable, you know! The first leg of my journey was to the Czech Republic, then from the Czech Republic to [Germany]. [The Vietnamese traffickers] made us travel pretending to be market observers for a company.”
“I lived in France for about four or five months...We lived in the forest. We built ourselves a hut in the forest. Our group consisted of about 10 people, men and women. We slept together...The traffickers gave us two meals a day. They brought us chicken to eat with rice. The same thing every day. For vegetables, we were in the forest so [we] gathered plants and leaves as a substitute.”
“It was horrendous hardship! Once a week they brought us water for a bath. That was for women only. For men, they could only brush their teeth and wash their faces. Water was only for brushing teeth and washing faces.”
“From time to time, they would tell us we would go to a vehicle [to take us to our destination]. The truth was that they took us to an isolated area and raped us, forcing us to sleep with them. If we didn't sleep with them, they wouldn't take us to our destination. Yet, in this strange land, we didn't know where anything was. We didn't know the language. Old or young, they took mercy on no one! They wouldn't spare anyone.”
'They forced us'
“These people, they should die an unnatural death. They're so terribly cruel. After leaving my country, I recognize what really cruel people are like. Especially with the women—many times they forced themselves on them. Many old women—they couldn't endure it. They knelt down and begged to be spared, but the men still forced them to sleep with them. They weren't human, you know! Doing these kinds of things, they lost their rights to be called human.”
“In front of everyone, [a man] would say, ‘This woman, that woman, must sleep with me tonight...’ It wasn’t only one man, but a group of seven or eight men. They sorted us out: ‘This woman sleeps with this man, that woman sleeps with this man, or that man.” They forced us like that. Any word against them and they would put their guns to our heads.”
“Nobody knew, nobody found out. Maybe only God knows.”
“In my group, there were seven or eight women. When they were menstruating, [the women] told them they had their periods and asked to be excused. The men said ‘period or not,’ they didn't care. They put guns to their heads and made them remove their clothes.”
'They put us in the trunk'
“They put us in the trunk of the car. The owner of the car was not aware of it. The cars smuggled us in [to Germany]. For example, when someone parked a car at a rest stop or gas station, the traffickers watched for an opportunity to break in. When they found an empty trunk, they put people into it.”
“You know, in one leg of the trip, I had to sit in a space under the trunk. There was a space where about two people could sit at the bottom of the trunk. They put us in there. [We] were crouching down and couldn't move at all.”
“How were we to know when they would reach their destination or when they would stop [for a rest]? So we banged on the door to ask them to stop. Some of them were mean. They did not like what we did. They stopped the car and beat us. They hit us very hard, you know. They broke my nephew’s hands. We banged on the door to ask to get out, and after we got out we bowed down and asked them to forgive us, but they still hit us.”
Original reporting by Khanh An. Translated from the Vietnamese by Thuy Brewer. Vietnamese service director: Khanh Nguyen. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.