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Sweatshop nightmare haunts Phu Tho workers

Update: January, 03/2014 - 09:10

Photo Reuters

by Lam Dao An

PHU THO (VNS) — Nguyen Thi Chung remembers her traumatic experience in China as if it was yesterday.

A resident of Yen Lap District in the northern province of Phu Tho, Chung had left her native village to pursue her dream of living and working abroad. In late 2011, Chung paid brokers VND4 million (US$190) to cross Viet Nam's northern border into China illegally.

Her journey began as planned, only to go horribly wrong as she began her trip home. Chung was kidnapped and held captive while her family in Viet Nam was forced to sell everything they had, and even borrow money, to pay a VND60 million ($2,880) ransom.

Sadly, this kind of story is not uncommon in Phu Tho, where many residents have attempted to create a better life across the border, only to be held captive in oppressive working conditions, kidnapped or sent home broke.

Dang Viet Anh, living in Phuc Khanh Commune in Yen Lap District, was similarly cheated to work 16 hours a day in a jewelry and art workshop in China after paying VND4 million ($190) to a Chinese man he met while working in the northern province of Quang Ninh.

Unable to tolerate the poisonous chemicals contaminating his work station, he abandoned the position to escape back to his hometown.

Despite the adversity Anh and Chung faced, they are part of a select few that have made it home alive after being smuggled into Chinese sweatshops. The body of Nguyen Thi Mui was sent home to Luong Son Commune after she left for China. Her cause of death has been unknown until now.

Of those who have fled to China in search of a better life, many have been arrested, expelled from the country or suffered abuse at the hands of unscrupulous employers. Many have found themselves back in Viet Nam with no money and worse off than before they left.

Le Quang Ninh, who sold his house in Xuan An Commune to work in China, was later apprehended by police and returned to Viet Nam. With no house, Ninh was forced to live in a makeshift tent.

Many of those who have returned have also fallen victim to addictive drugs, gambling or been forced into prostitution to raise income.

According to Nguyen Truong Son, Chairman of the Yen Loc District People's Committee, lax border management by local authorities has contributed to the rise in illegal workers across Phu Tho Province.

Recent statistics also show around 2,000 Phu Tho residents are working in China illegally, with 1,157 from the mountainous border district of Yen Lap. Of 900 returnees to date, 236 workers were arrested and expelled from the country by Chinese authorities.

In a bid to address the scale and risks of illegal workers, the provincial authority has instructed local agencies to raise awareness of the dangers of seeking employment abroad under illegal arrangements.

At the other end, authorities are seeking to widen legal channels for Vietnamese workers wanting to work overseas, while the province has also called on companies specialising in overseas employment to find appropriate and safe sources of employment for Vietnamese workers,

Meanwhile, investigations are underway to weed out corrupt individuals and organisations smuggling workers into China illegally. Since 2007, ten cases with 21 defendants have also been charged with human trafficking while another 88 cases have seen fines imposed for violation of the immigration law.

While experts are confident these measures will help address the trend of workers crossing the border illegally, only time will test how effective they are in preventing future Vietnamese workers from falling into the traps set by human traffickers. — VNS

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