Showing posts with label Slavery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Slavery. Show all posts

January 22, 2020

Get To Know How A Vietnamese Boy Became a Slave in a Cannabis Farm

This is a page from BBC
It was a horrifying death for the 39 Vietnamese nationals found in the back of a trailer in an industrial park in Essex, in October last year. The story shone a light on the subterranean world of people smuggling and human trafficking, reports Cat McShane, specifically the thriving route between Vietnam and the UK. 
Ba is slight for 18. His body shrinks into a neat package as he recalls his experiences. We're sitting in a brightly lit kitchen, a Jack Russell dog darting between us under the table. Ba's foster mum fusses in the background, making lunch and occasionally interjecting to clarify or add some detail to his account of his journey here from Vietnam. She wants to make sure his story is understood.
Ba's lived here for nearly a year. He was placed with his foster parents after being found wandering, confused and scared, around a train station in the North of England, with just the clothes he was wearing. "You feel safe now though, don't you?" his foster mum asks, needing affirmation that the mental and physical scars Ba wears will heal with enough care.
His story is one both extraordinary, and typical of the growing number of Vietnamese men and women recognised as being potential victims of trafficking in the UK. For several years, Vietnamese have been one of the top three nationalities featured in modern slavery cases referred to the National Crime Agency, with 702 cases in 2018

Chart showing main nationalities referred to National Referral Mechanism in 2018
Presentational white space

The Salvation Army, which supports all adult victims of modern slavery in the UK, says the number of Vietnamese nationals referred to them over the last five years has more than doubled. It's estimated 18,000 people make the journey from Vietnam to Europe each year
Ba believes it was a Chinese gang that trafficked him to the UK. He was kidnapped off the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, where he was a street child, an orphan who slept in the bend of a sewage pipe. He sold lottery tickets for money, although older men sometimes beat him and grabbed his takings.
2017 Unicef report described Ho Chi Minh City as "a source location, place of transition and destination of child trafficking". And a 2018 report by anti-trafficking charities said numerous trafficked Vietnamese children had reported being abducted while living on the streets.
That's what happened to Ba. "An older man told me that if I came with him, he could help me earn a lot of money. But when I said no, he put a bag over my head. I couldn't believe what was happening," he says. He was then bundled into a small van, bound as well as blindfolded, his shouts stifled.
Somewhere along the way, Ba's captors changed, and now he couldn't understand the language they spoke. When they finally came to a standstill and the bag was removed, Ba found himself in a large, empty, windowless warehouse in China, and was told to wait. "I knew they were preparing to send me somewhere to work," he says.

Vietnamese boy in warehouse

During the months that Ba was held there, a guard regularly beat him. "I don't know why," Ba says with a shrug, "there was no reason." When he was caught trying to escape, his punishment was far worse than kicks and punches - the guard poured scalding water over his chest and arms. 
"It was agony. I was shouting at him to stop but he didn't listen," he says. Ba became unconscious with the pain. "I just lay still for days. I couldn't walk. It was painful for a very long time." 
His foster mum adds that his scarred skin is tight all over his body, and a permanent reminder of what happened to him.

Quotebox: I kept telling myself to keep eating, keep working and two wait for the opportunity to run away

Ba was then moved to the UK in a succession of trucks. He remembers the silence of the final container, where the human cargo hid among boxes. The quiet was broken only by the rustling of cardboard being ripped up, to be used as insulation from the gnawing cold. His long-sleeved top offered little protection.
"I was always scared on the journey, and very tired. I couldn't sleep because I was so worried. I didn't know what was happening to me. I wasn't told anything about where I was going."
In fact, Ba was destined to work as a "gardener" in the UK's illegal cannabis trade - which is valued at around £2.6bn a year. In an abandoned two-storey house surrounded by woodland, he was locked-up and told to look after the plants that grew on every available surface. It was a mundane vigil of switching lights on and off over the plants at set times and watering them every few hours.
But it was also punctuated by violence. When a plant failed, Ba was starved and kicked by a Chinese boss, who would aim for the burns on his chest.
Ba never received any payment for his work, and wasn't told he was earning to pay off his fare to the UK. He was a slave.
"How did I keep going? I kept telling myself to keep eating, keep working and to wait for the opportunity to run away," he says.
He finally escaped by smashing an upstairs window and jumping to the ground. Then he ran for as long as he could.

Boy running on railway line

"I was frightened, depressed and panicking. If I had been caught I would have been beaten even worse," Ba says. But he had to take that risk because his life in the cannabis farm was "unbearable".
With no idea what direction to head in, he followed the path of a train line. He only had a packet of biscuits to eat. "I didn't even know I was in England."
The train line, predictably, led him to a train station - and to what was for him a very happy meeting with British Transport Police. "It had been a long time since anyone had been nice to me," he says. 
Ba has now settled into British life. He recently won a prize at college for his grades, and celebrated his first Christmas. He'd never unwrapped a present before. The translator who met Ba when he was taken into police custody says the transformation is remarkable. She recalls how skinny and scared he was. "Like a rabbit in the headlights," adds his foster dad.
Ba doesn't know whether he'll be allowed to stay in the UK. His last meeting at the Home Office to discuss his application for asylum didn't go well. The official tried to persuade him that if he returned to Vietnam he'd be helped by the authorities, which Ba finds impossible to believe. 
He is sure that if he is sent back, he will be trafficked again. That's a worry shared by Vietnamese trafficking expert Mimi Vu, who says that people who have been trafficked and returned are at serious risk of being re-trafficked, especially if their traffickers claim they owe them money. 
It's the quiet that Ba likes about the tiny hamlet he lives in, filled with old stone cottages and sprawling bungalows. Crowds make him anxious; he's scared he'll see the man who held him captive in the cannabis farm and kicked his injured chest. 

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Chinh's scared too, but not of the people who smuggled him here to the UK. He's scared of the Vietnamese authorities.
These fears are grounded in bitter experience. The 17-year-old was forced to leave Vietnam early in 2019 to escape a 10-year prison sentence for distributing anti-government literature door-to-door. "I didn't think I would come out alive," he says.
There are harsh punishments for people who criticize Vietnam's Communist government. In a report last week, Human Rights Watch said that at least 30 activists and dissidents were sentenced to prison in 2019 "simply for exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, association, and religion". That even includes writing something deemed anti-government on Facebook; Amnesty International says at least 16 people were arrested, detained or convicted in 2019 for this offense.
"[The year] 2019 was a brutal year for basic freedoms in Vietnam," Human Rights Watch's Asia director, Brad Adams, commented. "The Vietnamese government claims that its citizens enjoy the freedom of expression, but this 'freedom' disappears when it is used to call for democracy or to criticize the ruling Communist Party."
Chinh's arrest was due to his family's membership in Vietnam's Hoa Hao Buddhist community. The religion is recognized by the government but there are many groups that don't follow the state-sanctioned branch, and these are monitored and forcefully suppressed by the authorities. It's the same for other unapproved religious groups. Human Rights Watch says followers are detained, interrogated, tortured, forced to renounce their faith and imprisoned "in the national interest".
Chinh lived in Hai Duong, a city in northern Vietnam. His dream, along with millions of other teenage boys and girls, was to be a footballer, and he avidly followed the Portuguese star, Cristiano Ronaldo. But he was also happily working on his mum's household goods stall when he wasn't at school. He was very close to her, and to his grandfather, who lived with them. 

Map of Vietnam and China

In 2018 Chinh attended a demonstration with his grandfather. He recalls his nerves in the morning and the flags of 100 people waving in the wind as they chanted, calling for freedom of religion and the release of political prisoners. After that, Chinh struggles. "I find talking about that day very difficult," he says. Chinh's grandfather was arrested and sent to prison, where he died not long after. "When we visited him, he looked very weak," Chinh says. 
According to Amnesty International, jailed activists are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment. Vietnamese prisons are reported to be unsanitary, with inmates denied adequate access to medical care, clean water, and fresh air. 

Quotebox: My mum's last words were - 'Go over there, find someone to help you, and never come back'

His grandfather's treatment spurred Chinh to continue protesting but in early 2019 he too was arrested, for distributing flyers. He was held in a small, narrow cell for 10 hours and questioned alone. His faith helped to get him through, he says.
"Of course, I was scared. The police would come to the cell and question me about my family and why I had anti-government literature. They shouted at me when I didn't answer. I was very scared they might hit me." In court, he wasn't allowed to defend himself, convicted, and told his sentence would start when he turned 18. His mum then raised the money to pay an agent to smuggle him to the UK.
"My mum's last words were, 'Go over there, find someone to help you, and never come back.'"
At the airport, she handed him over to two agents, who kept his passport. "We got lots of flights and stayed at people's houses until we got to France," Chinh says. He hasn't a clue what countries he passed through, apart from Malaysia and Greece.

vietnamese boy being smuggled into the UK by lorry

In France, one night, he was put into a lorry container. There was only one other man inside, but they didn't speak until they arrived in the UK, terrified of alerting a border official to their presence.
"It was very cold and it was very difficult to breathe because it was a confined, small space," Chinh says. "I was lying on top of boxes piled up high on the lorry, almost to the top, so I only just had enough room to lie down. It was very dark. I just slept. I had nothing with me - no food, no water."
When the lorry finally stopped, Chinh was taken to a Vietnamese family, who fed him and gave him a bed for the night. "I can get you somewhere safe," his host said.
In the morning, Chinh was left outside the local Home Office building with a piece of paper showing his name and date of birth.

Vietnamese boy outside Home Office

He remembers how strange he felt because he couldn't speak English. But he felt safe, he says, "because I was in the UK". The Home Office has recently granted him refugee status, which entitles him to remain in the UK for five years. Then a decision will be taken on whether he can remain indefinitely. 
Chinh was lucky. His mum was able to pay his passage in advance.
When the bodies of 39 Vietnamese nationals were found in Essex last year, it was reported that these were economic migrants from some of the poorest regions in Vietnam, who had taken out loans of up to £30,000 in order to get here. Family houses had been used as security and they would have been obliged to pay off their passage once here, by working illegally in cannabis farms, nail bars and restaurants.
We may never know what the 39 people found in Essex had been promised, but it's likely that some of them would have ended up in slave-like conditions.
Jakub Sobik from Anti Slavery International says that Vietnamese people who have taken out loans to pay for their journey here are more vulnerable to being exploited.
"They start their journey believing they have paid to be smuggled in the search for a better life, but end up being victims of trafficking.
"The extent that they have to hide from the authorities makes it easy for traffickers. It is an offence to be here and they can't risk being deported to Vietnam with huge amounts of money owed over their heads."

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BBC Briefing

Some of the data in this article is drawn from BBC Briefing, a mini-series of downloadable in-depth guides to the big issues in the news, with input from academics, researchers and journalists. It is the BBC's response to audiences demanding a better explanation of the facts behind the headlines.

Short presentational grey line

While males are typically siphoned off into cannabis factories, Vietnamese women are at risk of sexual exploitation. I have read an account given by a boy of 15, who said that while working in a cannabis factory he could hear the screams of women downstairs. He believed they were being sexually abused. 
A young single mum, Amy, was raped on many occasions during her journey to the UK, and again after her arrival until a health worker identified her as a potential victim of trafficking.
She had been excited to leave the family farm with her sister back in 2013, she told the charity that eventually started looking after her in the UK.
Two men had convinced her family to send the girls abroad to earn money. There was no upfront fee, so they would need to work to pay the fare. Amy left her young son with an uncle. 
She was trafficked first to a clothes factory in Russia, where she worked for 10 to 12 hours a day without pay. She slept in a small room with about 10 other people, where she was raped repeatedly by the male workers.
After two years, she and eight others were taken overland to the UK and told that if they worked hard they would be paid. Instead, after waking up alone in the lorry that brought them across the Channel (the traffickers had left her behind for reasons that are unclear) she was sucked into a fresh world of exploitation. She ended up being forced into prostitution in the home of a Vietnamese couple, which doubled as a cannabis farm.
It was only after becoming pregnant, and getting arrested in a raid on the house, that a midwife noticed that something was wrong and referred Amy to the National Crime Agency as an apparent victim of modern slavery. Then the Salvation Army found her a place in a refuge.
Now she's a mum again, focused on doing the best for her baby. 
Chinh is living with a foster family. He is working hard on his English - and even the local Northern slang - and he remains a practicing Buddhist. His 18th birthday, the day he would have been jailed, is fast approaching.
Ba still suffers nightmares and flashbacks to his time in the hands of traffickers. He is waiting nervously for a decision on whether he will be granted asylum. But he recently started counseling, and day by day, under the loving care of his foster mum and dad, he is beginning to feel safer.
The names Ba, Chinh, and Amy are aliases
Illustrations by Emma Russell

August 10, 2017

"The Boy" Lost Dad Trying to Rescue Him but Still He Escaped from Boko Haram

The boy.
Picture huge eyes, a beautiful smile and a sadness no child his age should have to endure. That is the story of a young boy who is a survivor of Boko Haram abduction and captivity in northeastern Nigeria — as well as military detention and investigation.
For his own safety, we're not giving the boy's name or where he comes from.
This little boy is bright-eyed and polite. He is learning English and proudly counts up to 30. He is probably about 6, but he doesn't know for sure and there is no family here to tell us. His face crumples and his eyes cloud over and well up with tears as he tells his story.
"My father is dead, and my mother is in the bush," he says, speaking Hausa, the lingua franca in northern Nigeria. "It was when Boko Haram came to our village. They drove us out and snatched me and my siblings and our mother." He has two brothers. A cousin was also abducted.
"When they took us to the bush, my father followed and tried to rescue us," he continues. "When they realized my father was trying to take us back, Boko Haram killed him."

They are just a few of the thousands abducted by the terror network, which has wreaked havoc in the northeast, killing 20,000 and driving more than 2 million people from their homes.
The boy tears up at the memories but courageously continues recounting their ordeal. After Boko Haram insurgents killed his father, they took his family to a village "in the bush," where they attended Quranic school. He thinks they were there for about a year. And it was there that he was separated from his mother and one brother. Both are still missing.
"When my father died, I became so afraid," he says. "I was frightened of staying there. And the worst thing was when Boko Haram took us away from where we were with our mother so that we could go to school. And that's how our family was split up."

Now attending school, the boy is learning English and can count up to 30.
Jide Adeniyi-Jones for NPR
Another whimper from the small boy, as he recalls what he has lived through. One night, he, his brother and cousin decided they had had enough so, under cover of darkness, they sneaked out of the village. That is how they escaped and reached a village where the Nigerian military found them.
"It was the soldiers that brought us to Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri," he says. That's the main military barracks in the capital of Borno state — and the birthplace of Boko Haram.
"They did not maltreat us, but they gave us instructions on what to do and what not to do," he says. "They wouldn't allow us to leave the compound. And if you fight each other or if you're found trying to sneak out of your cell, they're going to beat you. Those were the rules in the barracks."
The three of them were held in military custody for interrogation and investigation for many months, says this young survivor of Boko Haram captivity. Still horrified, he describes a harrowing time with the military. "Former captives were herded in their dozens into small rooms," he remembers.
"It was stifling hot and babies were dying," he says.
"There were so many civilians at Giwa barracks. I can't tell you how many. And every day four to five people die there. The heat, the heat. The rooms are too hot and there's no ventilation, so people were dying. In the cells where women were being kept, small children and babies were dying every day. I was so frightened. At times, the corpses would be lying there, unattended for days on end before being disposed of."
Again the child's face creases into near tears at the memory, as he furiously furrows his brow to stop himself from crying. "It was so congested there, so they let some of us go — to reduce the number of people in the barracks". 
In its hunt for Boko Haram insurgents, the Nigerian military has been accused by human rights groups of mistreating suspects and even former captives, including women and children, at Giwa barracks.
These groups say the rescued civilians are held for many months.
According to a report from Amnesty International, up to 150 people died in detention at those barracks in early 2016, including four babies and 11 children under the age of 6.
But the military has denounced the accusations. "It is rather unfortunate that an organization of higher repute such as Amnesty International could release a report which is completely baseless, unfounded and source-less, with the intent of denting the image of the Nigerian Armed Forces," said a Defence Information statement in 2016.
The statement concluded that there was not an iota of truth in the report and said the fight against Boko Haram "terrorists" would continue "until they are annihilated."
The Amnesty International report also stated that of 1,200 civilians held at Giwa barracks in the first quarter of 2016, at least 120 were children.
"Many were arbitrarily rounded up during mass arrests, often with no evidence against them," the report said.
The Nigerian military says those detained are suspected of being Boko Haram sympathizers who could be dangerous or troublesome — including former captives of the group.
After what he says were many months, the young boy was released into the care of government house matrons at a rehabilitation center with social workers and psycho-social support funded by UNICEF, the U.N. children's agency. 
But he misses his family, especially his brother, cousin and best friend, who're still in military custody for reasons that aren't clear, as well as his mother and another brother, he says. The child says he has new schoolmates and mentions the name of a new friend — another little boy — but says he is lonely.
Teachers hold classes and organize activities to try to keep the children happy and busy. Wearing threadbare clothing and excited at the prospect of getting a new soccer ball to replace the one they mistakenly kicked over the wall into the adjoining compound, he is learning and getting along with the other children he now shares his life with.
But the future is uncertain for the orphans and children separated from their families by Boko Haram violence and captivity. Ahmed Jaha, the Borno state commissioner for higher and special education, says helping these kids adjust to freedom is a top priority for the state government. He warns that without an education, these youngsters could become the violent extremists of tomorrow.
"In our enlightened self-interest," says Jaha, "these orphans, we either take care of them today or, from what I see in Borno today — with more than 40,000 orphans — whether we like it or not in the near future, they are going to be a disaster that is going to consume everybody."
"If we cannot take care of them today, they will be the great monsters that are going to consume all of us."
Jaha talks of establishing mega boarding schools throughout the state, where he says these children would be taught and kept out of trouble. UNICEF and other relief agencies are offering counseling and encouragement to orphans and children like this young former Boko Haram captive — and some hope for the future.
Before he skips off to rejoin his classmates, the boy brightens up considerably when he starts passionately discussing soccer. "I want to be a soldier," he says at first, but then adds he wouldn't mind being a soccer player either. He's a fan of Argentina and Barcelona striker, Lionel Messi. For a moment, his boyish composure almost makes you forget who is speaking — impressive for a child who bears witness to so much suffering.
"I'm quite good at heading the ball," says the boy who escaped Boko Haram. "And I'm a real team player."


June 1, 2016

New Figures on Slavery on the US 57,700

Update on World Slavery of Today

Some 57,700 people are living in conditions that constitute slavery in the United States right now, according to report released today, with undocumented immigrants, refugees, and homeless LGBT youth are particularly vulnerable to abusive conditions.
The Global Slavery Index estimates that worldwide, 45.8 million people are living in some form of modern-day slavery–whether that’s forced agricultural or industrial labor, sex trafficking, or forced marriage.

The report, published yearly by an anti-slavery group called the Walk Free Foundation, ranked the U.S. 52nd out of 167 countries in terms of its protections against slavery and human trafficking. While modern-day slavery might not sound like something that happens on American shores, the disenfranchised face a serious risk of being exploited. Part of the problem is that they’re less likely to seek or receive support from law enforcement. That includes immigrants who may be taken advantage of because they worry about being deported and young homeless LGBT people who could feel pressured into “survival sex” for a safe place to stay.
“The U.S. attracts undocumented workers, migrants, and refugees, who can be at particular risk of vulnerability to human trafficking upon their arrival and during their stay in the U.S.,” the report says. “Research undertaken on vulnerable migrant labourer populations in San Diego, California, and in North Carolina suggests that these populations often include undocumented seasonal labourers who experience significant language barriers, cultural non-assimilation, and fear of deportation.”
The Obama administration has taken some specific steps to address human trafficking, like establishing the Office on Trafficking in Persons to raise public awareness and provide services to victims of human trafficking. But the GSI report says that what could really help is to curb the underlying reasons that people are preyed upon:
Poverty and social instability among specific populations – namely undocumented people, homeless persons, and runaway youth – are some of many vitiating factors contributing to the risk of slavery in the U.S. These factors motivate workers in manual sectors, such as manufacturing, construction, and farming to work in dangerous conditions. They also play a role in prompting minors to engage in survival sex.
Some undocumented immigrants fleeing traumatic circumstances in their home countries are already in a vulnerable position, according to an advocacy group called the Freedom Network which works specifically to fight human trafficking and labor abuses against immigrants to the U.S.
Aside from fearing contact with law enforcement, immigrants on temporary visas or with no documents at all are at a disadvantage because they may not be aware of their rights, the Freedom Network wrote in a 2013 report. “They exploit working conditions knowing that workers most likely do not understand their rights and the applicable laws, may not speak the language, and therefore, would not speak out and risk retaliation.”
The advocacy group suggests that providing a path to legalization for undocumented workers is one step to preventing worker abuses, along with giving immigrants of every status more access to information on their rights, and access to help from law enforcement without the threat of repercussions.
 Young homeless LGBT people who have left their homes after facing discrimination and a lack of support from their families or communities are left in a similarly disempowering situation. A national survey of youth homelessness service providers found in 2012 that somewhere between 30% and 43% of homeless young people served by those housing programs identified as LGBT.
Covenant House, a private child care agency based in New York which provides resources and shelter to homeless youth, found that one in four of the 174 young people they helped and then surveyedsaid they had been a victim of sex trafficking or “survival sex.” The six LGBT youth who were included in the random sample all said they’d been involved in one or the other. Like the other young people included in the Covenant House survey, they said being LGBT exposed them to more discrimination and made it even harder for them to find help.
While the U.S. is ahead of some other countries with severe trafficking problems, there are tens of thousands of people whose human rights are being abused, the report suggests. The approximate numbers in the index were calculated using global surveys conducted with the Gallup group, also referring to a combination of reports from governments, non-profits, and social services groups. The report says that because most cases of human trafficking likely go unreported, actual figures are probably much higher.

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