Vu Gia Po traveled from somewhere in southern China to Athmuqam in northern Pakistan. Po, an ethnic H’mong man from a village in northern Vietnam, has been held for months by puzzled authorities who initially had no clue to his nationality and were unable to understand him. Po was arrested after being discovered wandering on foot without any identification in the town of Athmuqam on the militarized India border.
An illiterate Vietnamese national who speaks only his native H’mong language ended up in Pakistan after traveling thousands of kilometers from southern China, crossing two militarized, disputed borders.
After they arrested Vu Gia Po, 37, in October it took the Pakistani police almost three months and lots of effort to realize he could be Vietnamese and inform the Vietnamese embassy in Islamabad.
He had been found wandering on foot without any identification in the town of Athmuqam near the border with India.
The embassy could not communicate with him either because he had no Vietnamese, but suspected he was Vietnamese after, according to Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, someone in Athmuqam showed him flags and currencies of countries in the region and he was excited at seeing those of Vietnam.
It remains a mystery how Vu Gia Po got lost in Pakistan, thousands of kilometers from China where he had worked for a few months from April, 2012.
According to Raja Yasir, a former inspector in the Crime Investigation Agency (CIA) in Muzaffarabad District, Po was held by Military Intelligence, who had apprehended him in Sharda after he sneaked into Pakistani Kashmir from the Indian side. To do so he crossed what is thought to be one of the most militarized borders in the world.
In November the CIA handed him over to the police in Athmuqam.
“Initially, we took him to be dumb since he would not speak,” Yasir was quoted by Dawn as saying.
“However, after 10-12 days he started speaking in his language, which we were completely unable to understand.”
He invited some Chinese and Korean workers in Muzaffarabad hoping they could help identify his nationality, but in vain.
“We did not lodge him in the lockup or send him to the central jail for fear that he may spend the rest of his life there,” he said.
Among those asked to help identify Po were some Vietnamese, but they did not recognize his H’mong language either. The H’mong number around 1 million strong and live mostly in the northern mountains.
The embassy got in touch with government agencies in Vietnam who circulated Po's photo to all villages in the northern mountains.
Authorities in Khau Vai Commune confirmed back that Po was a local.
The embassy has since carried out the procedures needed to release and repatriate Po, but he has yet to be released.
Amiruddin Mughal, a freelance journalist, met Po at the police station and recorded a clip of him and posted it online in December. He then sent it to a colleague in Vietnam, an AP photographer and a Thanh Nien contributor, hoping he could help identify the man.
With his limited knowledge of the H’mong language, the journalist, Na Son, realized that Po was saying that he is from Khau Vai Commune in Ha Giang, and contacted Le Van Quy, a local official, at the end of March.
Quy translated the clip into Vietnamese, and it said: “I am Vu Gia Po of Khau Vai Commune. I am a good person, not a thief. I accompanied Mr Vu and Mr Phinh and went to China to earn money.
“I have a wife and five children living in Khau Vai Commune. Please help me go back to Vietnam. I am not Chinese; I am Vietnamese.”
On March 28 the Vietnamese embassy, which had not spoken to the media about Po’s case until then, told Thanh Nien that it was completing the procedures to send him home.
“Vu Gia Po was arrested by Pakistani police for illegal migration, specifically on the Kashmir border, where there are territorial disputes between Pakistan and India and is very sensitive from a security point of view,” it said.
Embassy officials have met with Po and found him in good shape but eager to return home, it said.
They have bought him a flight ticket for which Po’s wife had sent VND17 million (US$850).
The embassy said it is waiting for government agencies in Islamabad to order Po’s release.
On March 29 Thanh Nien asked Qureshi of the Pakistan Red Crescent Society to take a photo of Po’s wife and second daughter to the Zila Neelum police station.
Qureshi said Po could not help control his tears.
But he was happy since he knew for sure he could finally reunite with his family, he added.
Mughal, the photo said: “Though police provide him food thrice a day, occasionally local people also bring him food and give him money.”
Yasir, the ex-police officer, said: “Our guest has intermingled with us but we want to reunite him with his family.” vw
Running away from China
Ly Mi Tu, the brother-in-law of Vu Gia Po, who wandered thousands of miles from China to Pakistan and was arrested, said he and Po were among those who ran away after being tricked into slave labor in China.
VTC News quoted the man as saying: “In China, we were beaten and forced to work very hard. They treated us like buffalos and horses.”
They were taken to China illegally by Vu Xi Giang, a H’mong man from a nearby commune who had claimed they could earn VND18 million (US$854) in three months as gardeners.
Tu, Po, and eight others were taken to an unidentified farm where they were forced to work from dawn to dusk clearing shrubs and fed only rice and salt.
The supervisors treated them like slaves and beat them if they did not follow orders.
“Sometimes, they threw stones at us for fun.”
A month later more men from Ha Giang came to the site, and Po met them to ask about his family. But the employers assumed that he was discussing an escape plan and thrashed him.
They failed several times in their attempts to escape, and were beaten after being caught each time.
Finally, Po, Tu, and four others managed to run away.
They wandered for five days before deciding to separate into two groups to lessen the risk of being caught by their employers.
After a month Tu and two others were caught by the Chinese police who deported them to Vietnam after several months in jail.
“However miserable my life is, I will never dare go again. If I go again, I may die without seeing my wife and children again.”
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