Vietnam labor export project fails thousands of poor

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The mother and son of Le Van Quang, who came home empty-handed and had debts after working for three years in Dubai, outside their hut in Thanh Hoa Province

Le Van Quang returned home empty-handed last year despite working for three years in Dubai. He had gone there through a government labor export project.

He could not even afford a bus ticket to his home in Thanh Hoa Province 150 kilometers from Hanoi, and had to call a relative to drive a motorbike over to pick him up.

The only thing he brought home was a pair of pants he bought for his son for VND20,000 (now worth less than a dollar), while his wife and parents are now saddled with a debt of VND30 million (US$1.435) he had borrowed to take part in the project. 

He himself disappeared soon after returning.

Project 71, unveiled in April 2009, has sent aboard nearly 7,500 people, most of them from minority groups from the country's poorest districts, as part of efforts to alleviate poverty.

Hundreds may have returned and built new houses, but many more have faced Quang's situation after being sent as guest workers to unstable places, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported early this month.

Thanh Hoa and Quang Ngai Provinces in the central region were the focus of the program, having the largest numbers of poor districts in the country respectively seven and six.

Son Ha in Quang Ngai and Ba Thuoc in Thanh Hoa have been the only districts to benefit from the project since local authorities actively provided consultation.

Vo Huu Thinh, the Son Ha labor chief, said 350 people were sent to Malaysia, and many of them earned stable incomes and managed to support their families back home.

A source from state-owned labor agency Sovilaco said the district has made the project a success by setting up a consultancy group of 200 people who were paid for their services.

Dinh Ro, a Son Ha local, lived in a new stone house built using money his son sent from Malaysia.

Ro, who has a small rice field, said he would have been living all his life in a thatched hut with mud walls if it were not for his son, who also sent enough for the family to buy a motorbike and open a small food shop with a refrigerator.

Ro's neighbor Dinh Van Khia also got more than VND100 million (US$4,800) from his son in Malaysia, and plans to build a new house.

"My family has been removed from the poverty list, and my children no longer have to stay out of school," Khia told Tuoi Tre.

In Ba Thuoc District around 800 kilometers to the north, Lo Van Huynh, 34, has opened a shop that offers motorbike repairs and hairdressing and sells ornamental birds with money he saved by working two years in Dubai.

He was paid more than VND7 million ($335) a month as a construction worker, and managed to save more than VND160 million, he said.

He used VND70 million to repay bank loans, and spent the rest on a piece of land on the main street to open the shop, which makes VND5 million a month.

District authorities said 1,171 people left to work abroad between 2007 and 2012, including many who went by themselves.

But the project has not worked well for many, with the authorities saying guest workers should have been sent to places like South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan.

Labor authorities in Quang Nam Province near Quang Ngai said 63 people from Nam Tra My District, who went to Malaysia under the project in 2011 and 2012, were sent back for various reasons, but mostly because their employers went bankrupt or had to scale down operations.

Nguyen Xuan Ba, the district labor chief, said the labor export companies involved in the project did not cooperate to fix the problems.

At least 68 people from Son Ha also had to leave Malaysia before their contracts ended, and are having a hard time repaying their bank loans.

Vo Huu Thinh, chief labor official of Son Ha District, said without solutions to the bank loan problem, it would be hard to continue with the project, which is expected to send 137,500 people overseas by 2020 at a cost of VND4.715 trillion ($226.2 million).

Thinh said ethnic people live in close-knit communities and "if one member from their community succeeds, the whole village will follow suit, but it also needs just one person to fail for the entire village to be scared."

The labor export companies feel discouraged too.

Solivaco and Gmap said they have not received payments from the project for sending many workers abroad.

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