HANOI—Vietnamese workers in Europe have described deaths, beatings, and rapes at the hands of trafficking gangs who bring them to the region illegally on foot or by truck, often through the Czech Republic.
“The truck was big, they carried big electric poles, items like sewer pipes and bridge parts,” said a Vietnamese women from the northern province of Quang Binh identified by her surname, Hat, who is currently living in Germany.
“It was a full load on a huge truck. He put us inside a big pipe. He told us when we got to the border checkpoint, we could not talk. After passing the checkpoint, we were allowed to breathe and talk,” she said.
Hat said she was sent first to the Czech Republic by air, then to France by road.
“The police chased us,” she said.
“They had followed us from the Czech Republic. They said the truck was carrying illegal immigrants from the Czech Republic.”
“They stopped [us]. They wanted to arrest us. Then they chased us,” she said.
“The driver was scared, afraid of exposing the network, so he ran. He drove up to 180 kms per hour. Drove on a road that was closed and hit a tree.”
Captive in France
She said the traffickers and six trafficked workers—two of whom were Vietnamese—died in the subsequent explosion, while she was thrown clear of the blast because she had no seatbelt.
A second woman, also from Quang Binh and trafficked by the same company, said she took a similar road trip, but was held captive and raped by traffickers in the depths of a French forest before being detained for a month as an illegal immigrant.
“[They put] about seven or eight people in a truck with no windows to take them to France,” said Kim Anh. “Living conditions in France were horrible. I lived in France for about four or five months.”
During that time, the women in the group were repeatedly raped at gunpoint by the Vietnamese men in charge of the group, she said.
“From time to time, they would tell us we would go to a vehicle [to take us to our destination],” she said.
“The truth was that they took us to an isolated area and raped us, forcing us to sleep with them. If we did not sleep with them, they would not take us to our destination,” Kim Anh said.
When the promised trip eventually came, Kim Anh said she and her companions traveled in the trunks of private vehicles without the knowledge of the owners.
“Someone would park a car at a rest stop or gas station, and they watched for an opportunity to break in,” she said. “When they found an empty trunk, they put people in it.”
The majority of Vietnamese human trafficking victims come from rural areas in the north and central regions of the country, including Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, and Hai Phong.
Mostly, the victims make initial contact with the trafficking network through a local middleman, saying they wish to go overseas to look for work.
The networks have connections with travel companies and other private companies that provide fake documentation and procure legal visas for the first port of entry into the European Union.
Kim Anh said she traveled under the guise of “market observer,” although others are taken out of Vietnam as “tourists.”
Those trafficked can pay from U.S. $8,000-25,000 depending on the middleman. Kim Anh said she paid U.S. $14,000, while Hat said she raised U.S. $8,500.
“People in the network told me this amount of money would bring me directly to Germany, but the paper said that I would go to the Czech Republic,” she said.
Nghe An-based middleman Bui Cong, well-known among local people for arranging visas and transport overseas, said that most of the people he traffics fly first to France or the Czech Republic, with others in the network taking them to their destinations illegally.
“If someone wants to go, he only needs to give me his passport and the documents,” Cong said. “No problem.”
“The paperwork is done, the fees are paid, and then they fly ... This office serves the whole village—the whole country, too,” he said.
He said people come to him to go overseas as workers or students and are given genuine visas on real passports, but on the basis of fake work contracts.
“The method is not legal, but the documents for travel are real. For example, we falsify the contract with an overseas company. That contract is fake,” he said.
“But when we apply for the visa, the visa is official. If we really sign a contract with an overseas company, they want us to pay taxes, so [we] falsify the contract so that it’s not in the company’s record.”
“The laws do not allow it, so we have to do it the illegal way,” he said.
Kim Anh said that by the time Vietnamese workers get to their destinations, they are in massive debt to the traffickers, who run slick and almost undetectable operations.
“Generally speaking, here in Germany, there are many people in the network,” she said. “They arrest one man, and there is another to replace him.”
“In Germany, enforcement is very strict. They watch very closely, monitor phones and other things, too, but still cannot catch up with our people. Our Vietnamese people are very sly,” she said.
“Here in Germany, I witnessed a case where police arrested people on charges of human trafficking ... but still did not have enough evidence to convict. Because truly, here in Germany, there are Vietnamese lawyers. Give them money, and everything’s fine,” she said.
Many trafficked workers take out large loans from family and friends to pay for their trip, or use their own and relatives’ houses as collateral.
“My house was worth 80 million dong (U.S. $4,160), my sister-in-law’s 50 million (U.S. $2,600),” Hat said.
“It took three or four houses to raise enough collateral to satisfy the conditions. It’s a miserable situation—they took a lot of my money,” she said.
“If you borrow money from the bank to go overseas to improve your life, your children’s lives are ruined, [your] spouse’s life is made miserable,” Hat said. “Nobody knows about that.”
“After getting here, some even died because of debts. It’s not only in Germany. In England also, someone owed 500 or 600 million dong and could not pay off the loan. She killed herself in jail …,” she said.
According to the United Nations’ drug and crime agency’s 2009 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, authorities in the Czech Republic convicted 69 people of trafficking offense from 2002-2006, the report said.
“All persons convicted of trafficking in 2005-2006 subjected their victims to sexual exploitation,” the report said.
“Of the victims of trafficking in persons assisted by the Program to Support and Help Victims of Trafficking in Human Beings, 17 were subjected to sexual exploitation in 2005. In 2006, 10 victims suffered sexual exploitation and four were subjected to forced labor,” it said.
In 2007, there were 50 officers assigned full time to the policing of human trafficking within the Human Trafficking Department and Forced Labor Sections of the Czech police.
According to the U.S. State Department, Vietnam is a source and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation.
In its 2009 Trafficking in Persons report, it called on the Vietnamese government to institute criminal penalties for recruitment agencies and others involved in labor trafficking.
“Despite several reported cases of forced labor and debt bondage of Vietnamese workers abroad, the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of offenders of labor trafficking during the reporting period,” the report said.
Original reporting in Vietnamese by Khanh Anh. Vietnamese service director: Khanh Nguyen. Translated by Thuy Brewer. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.