Floral tributes to the victims were left close to where the 39 bodies were found. The incident has raised a red alert on illegal human smuggling in Việt Nam’s northern and north-central provinces. — PA/VNA Photo
Following the tragic lorry deaths in Essex, some 28 families from central provinces of Nghệ An and Hà Tĩnh have reported to local authorities that they are no longer in contact with relatives who were supposed to be en route to the UK. Mark Brown, the officer in charge of International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Việt Nam, talks exclusively to Việt Nam News reporter Khoa Thư about illegal smuggling in the country and what the government can do to prevent similar cases.
The 2018 UK Annual Report on modern slavery ranked Việt Nam third in the most common countries of origin. Can you comment on this issue?
The statistics from the 2018 UK Annual Report on Modern Slavery are quite concerning, and are one of the reasons the UK and Vietnamese governments have signed a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to tackle modern slavery in 2018.
IOM has found that most Vietnamese nationals referred as potential victims of trafficking to the UK are from northern and the north-central coastal provinces of Việt Nam.
Why is the UK the desired destination for illegal migrants from Việt Nam? What do they do once they get there? What threats do they face?
The UK is a desirable destination because it is seen as a prosperous and wealthy country where migrants can make money, but unfortunately migrants from Việt Nam try to go illegally to many other countries as well. Traffickers exploit people's vulnerabilities with false promises of money and wealth, of uniting with family members abroad, or of finding a happy marriage with a foreigner.
The most common reason for Vietnamese to try illegal migration is economic. This is reflected in the 2018 UK Annual Report on Modern Slavery in its statistics that show "labour exploitation" is the largest category. In 2017 IOM interviewed a sample of Vietnamese nationals who returned from the UK. As expected, most said they left because of economic pressures, and some also mentioned family pressure to migrate, a desire to escape domestic violence and/or divorce, debt problems, and other domestic social issues. Precedent is important as well, since some past migrants successfully migrated and sent money back to their families. This unfortunately encourages others to take the risk of illegal migration.
Migrants are quite smart, but ignorance and isolation can be a problem. They sometimes have very limited access to information on how to legally enter, reside and work in other countries. They also do not know what the journey will be like, or how risky it will be. They have to depend on the smuggler/trafficker, who can lie about the information and details.
In response to Nghệ An and Hà Tĩnh families who reported their relatives missing in the UK, Việt Nam Prime Minister commanded the Ministry of Public Security and Ministry of Foreign Affairs to identify the victims, start an investigation into human smuggling and implement citizen protection measures if needed. What has IOM done to support local authorities in the two provinces to protect vulnerable groups?
For several years IOM has been working closely with Vietnamese government partners in Nghệ An and Hà Tĩnh to promote safe migration, and discourage smuggling and human trafficking. These activities have been funded by the governments of Australia, the UK and the US, who recognise the particular risks of smuggling and trafficking to their countries.
In Nghệ An, IOM established a Migration Resource Centre in 2016 first with the provincial Women’s Union, and now under the provincial department of labour, invalids and social affairs. Migrants and vulnerable individuals can ask about safe migration opportunities and support.
In both Hà Tĩnh and Nghệ An, community outreach events have been implemented since 2015 to prevent vulnerable people from taking dangerous and irregular journey to other countries, particularly to Australia by boat.
Of course, the British government has taken a special interest in preventing smuggling and trafficking from Việt Nam. They have funded IOM to work with national and provincial authorities in Hà Tĩnh and Nghệ An to raise awareness of the risks involved in irregular smuggling and trafficking, to encourage those considering work abroad to get accurate information about legal migration pathways, and to work only with registered migration recruitment agencies. We are developing communication materials to deter irregular migration and smuggling, while providing accurate information on legal migration pathways and alternatives.
Despite all of these efforts, some individuals still feel the risks are outweighed by the economic opportunities and higher salaries. We hope this tragic incident in the UK will convince more people that the danger is very real, and will discourage them from illegal migration.
What are IOM’s recommendations for Việt Nam’s government to prevent similar cases?
The government of Việt Nam is already doing a lot, and IOM appreciates their efforts. We want them to continue increasing awareness, providing information on the tactics of traffickers, and promoting safe migration opportunities and alternative livelihood options. We want the authorities to continue investigating and prosecuting smugglers and traffickers, and continue to share information with relevant bodies and agencies so they can react quickly. We want them to encourage vulnerable migrants and their families to report suspected incidents of smuggling and trafficking, and protect informants from harm and threats. — VNS