Xe om drivers around Ho Chi Minh City major bus stations have abducted youth from the Mekong Delta and sold them to people who forced them to work without wages, according to a Tuoi Tre investigation undertaken following readers' tipoffs.
The drivers operate at the Mien Tay Bus Station, where vehicles take people to and from Mekong Delta destinations, and people frequently arrive looking for jobs in the city.
N.C.K., a recent 18-year-old victim, said his family in An Giang Province was in financial trouble, so he he took a bus to HCMC on October 30 to look for his brother and ask him for help finding a job.
At the bus station, a group of xe om drivers snatched his bag with all his personal papers, money and a note of his contacts, said K. who managed to escape later.
The youth said he had begged the drivers to take him to a Vai village in the city to look for his brother.
One of the drivers "drove me for around 20 minutes and took me to a house where everyone wore tattoos. I was very scared.
"Then a woman gave him some money. Then I was brought by another person to a big house in the middle of a field. The house owner gave the driver VND300,000 ($15.40) and pulled me inside, locking the doors," the boy said.
He said there were five other boys, similarly kidnapped in the house, working hard sorting metal scrap.
The owner was supervising the work, threatening to starve them to death whenever they paused in the work.
"One ran away yesterday and I'm looking for him. I will kill him when I get him," K. recalled the man as saying.
But the boy still tried to escape the next night and was helped to do so by a local resident.
In September, N.V.T., 26, also from An Giang, was abducted and sold to a rice factory in District 6.
T. said: "They took my ID card and forced me to carry rice for no money day and night until I was exhausted. When I asked for the the card back to go home, they threatened to assault me."
He managed to contact a friend on the phone who paid the factory owners money to free him.
Also in September, three young men from Kien Giang Province ended up at a leather shoe factory near Mien Tay Bus Station while in May, two others from Soc Trang Province were forced to be garbage pickers for a man in Binh Duong province, neighboring HCMC.
For each ID card of the victims they gave the boss, the xe om drivers received VND500,000 ($26).
The victims worked from dawn until late at night with stinky garbage, ate poorly and didn't get paid, they said. They escaped after several weeks.
Many rings are operating at the station, abducting people who look naÃ¯ve and confused, and taking them to metal scrap dealers, slaughterhouses or other establishments.
Some of the victims are lured with promises of well-paid jobs at shops or restaurants.
If the victims don't agree to work, they are beaten and forced to even harder work.
The Tuoi Tre investigation found out a similar situation at the Mien Dong Bus Station, where passengers travel between the city and the central and northern regions.
It found that the ring leaders, who finally employ the victims, also have to pay commission to some officials of the bus stations.