Vietnamese youth duped and forced to work in appalling conditions
Three of the nine laborers from the southern province of Tay Ninh are back home after spending three months in horrific conditions at an illegal garment factory in China
Nine young Vietnamese laborers six men and three women were allegedly forced to pay ransoms for being allowed to return home after falling prey to virtual slavery at an illegal garment factory in China for more than three months.
The laborers, natives of the southern province of Tay Ninh near Ho Chi Minh City, arrived home on February 25 after their families paid between VND22-35 million each that their captors demanded.
In early November 2011, the nine youths were persuaded to go to China by a woman named Nguyen Thi Thu Dung from the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak.
Dung had asked an acquaintance in Thanh Phuoc Commune, Go Dau District, Tay Ninh Province, to find Vietnamese laborers to work in a garment factory in China's Guangzhou City.
She said each worker would be paid VND15-20 million (US$720-960) a month. Vietnam's 2011 per capita income is around $1,300.
Dung also said each person must pay her VND15 million as "procedure fees" to work at the factory owned by a Vietnamese.
The nine youths, along with five others from Dak Lak Province, agreed to work for Dung. On November 8, Dung took them to China.
According to Vo Minh Thanh, one of the nine laborers, the group was forced by Dung and another Vietnamese woman named Hai to work from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day at the factory.
They were fed with rice porridge or instant noodles for breakfast at 4-5 a.m. and lunch was a little food cooked in smelly oil.
Their mobile phones were confiscated. Dung also collected passports and other papers of the laborers.
There were always security guards in the factory to prevent laborers from fleeing, Thanh said.
Around 200 laborers, mostly Chinese, were working in the factory. The workers said Dung and Hai frequently discussed how to lure more Vietnamese women from some northern provinces bordering China to work in the factory.
Nguyen Thanh Thuong, a 25-year-old worker, told Vietweek the days in China were "terribly unforgettable."
"We had two people sharing a tiny bed in rooms of just 12 square meters.
"In the first days, newcomers like us had our nose bleeding because of the thick odor of chemicals coming from the cloths."
Thuong said laborers who had stomachache, toothache, fever or coughing were given the same medicines. Those who got so sick that they could not work were allowed to take a rest in a locked room for half a day.
"As we had to work too late, many of us always felt hungry. One night, we sneakily took three packs of instant noodles to eat but then we were caught by Dung, who yelled and insulted us a lot," said Nguyen Thi Kim Sa, a 49-year-old female worker.
After the group worked for more than one month, Dung refused to pay them, saying that they were not skilled enough and that their salaries had been used up by food and accommodation expenses. The story was repeated over the next two months.
In early February, Thanh ran away from the factory but was soon apprehended by security guards.
Hai and Dung had him detained in a separate room and threatened to have his kidney removed if he tried to flee again.
Ransoms for freedom
As the workers fiercely insisted on going home, Dung and Hai allowed four women Nguyen Thi Be Tham, Nguyen Thi Kim Sa, Nguyen Thi Dep and Nguyen Thi Minh Tuyen to return home by bus.
Each had to pay VND3.5 million ($170) as compensation for "breaching labor contract" and received no salary.
The remaining 10 laborers continued their work until late February and kept asking for their freedom.
Dung and Hai then telephoned the families of the laborers, demanding a ransom of VND40 million ($1,920) each for releasing them. The pair then reduced the ransom to VND22 million ($1,054) for each laborer, except for Thanh.
The pair also made the workers write statements saying they were leaving the factory voluntarily.
The families of nine young workers from Tay Ninh were told to send the ransom money to the bank account of a man in Hanoi.
Thanh said his parents had mortgaged their land-usage certificate to get a loan to pay the ransom of VND35 million ($1,680).
After getting the money, Dung and Hai told a man to bring the nine workers back to Vietnam by road. All of their papers were kept by the pair.
"Before releasing us, they told us not to report to the police or our lives will be at risk," Thanh said.
Senior Lieutenant-Colonel Nguyen Van Phuong, chief of Go Dau District Police Office, said local police had not heard anything about the case until Thanh's family reported it several days ago.
"We are collecting information about the illegal human smuggling ring," he said.
Meanwhile, an official at the Vietnamese Embassy in China told Vietweek the embassy is still investigating the case.
Le Trung Hoa, chief of the Overseas Consular Office under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said it had recently handled several similar cases.
"However, most of the cases were only detected after the victims successfully escaped, paid ransoms or got rescued following raids on illegal factories by Chinese police," he said.