Thanh had a quiet life.
Aged 27, she worked in a Hanoi clothes shop. She had good friends, a decent salary, and every reason to think she would soon be married and starting her own family.
Until just over a month ago.
One of her friends in the shop came to her secretly with a great idea. Why did they have to work for someone else? Why not put their minds together and open their own shop, using the contacts they had made and the business knowledge they had picked up over the last few years?
It all made perfect sense. And her friend even knew of a company in China where they could buy the clothes from directly. By going there themselves, they could purchase all their stock and cut out the middle man.
Thanh was on her way to being an entrepreneur.
She and her friend – now her business partner! – set off to China for what should have been a couple of days. But her friend had no intention of starting a clothing shop. Instead, she had arranged for Thanh to be handed over to a trafficking ring as soon as they were across the border from Vietnam.
Thanh’s friend received $7000 USD in cash, then left immediately for home. For Thanh, an extraordinary nightmare was just beginning.
Her final destination was the northern provinces of Myanmar, where she was taken to a brothel and put to work under threat of her life. Thanh’s situation was terrifying – she had never imagined anything as horrific as this – and immediately knew she had to escape.
Thanh devoted herself to securing a mobile phone. Without one, her family back in Vietnam could never know where she was. Sometimes people trafficked from Vietnam wait for months before they can get their hands on a phone; Thanh had one in just weeks. Her life depended on it.
When the information reached Blue Dragon, we understood both the complexity and the urgency. Right at the moment we have at least 3 rescue operations taking place at any one time, and all are the highest priority. At the same time that we learned of Thanh, we also learned of Ny, a young mother and her 5 year old daughter An, who had both been sold into China over 8 months ago. They were more than 3000km from the Vietnamese border, where they had been sold to a man for $15,000 USD. If not for her daughter, Ny would have already committed suicide. Now that she had a phone, just like Thanh she too had only a very short time before she would be found out and the line of communication would be cut.
And so we put into action rescue operations for Thanh, Ny, and 5 year old An.
We have never conducted a rescue in Myanmar, but were able to send someone to reach Thanh within a few days. Getting her into China was the first step, and it turned out to be the easiest. With no paperwork, the journey back towards the Vietnamese border was difficult and dangerous.
And then something happened that we have never before experienced: Thanh was separated from us by another trafficker during a lunch stop. She went to the bathroom, and simply disappeared.
Thanh had been kidnapped and re-trafficked.
Ny’s rescue was all under control; she was able to slip away from the family that had bought her and meet our rescue team with ease. Before long she and An were on their way toward the border, which took 3 days but was fairly free of drama. Ny held her breath the entire way, fearing that it was too good to be true. After 8 months as a prisoner, she could not believe that she was truly free until she was back in Vietnam.
As Ny and her girl headed home, Thanh’s whereabouts was a mystery. Someone had been looking for her and intervened; we found out later that they had intercepted her, forced her into a car, and took her to a nearby brothel, where they sold her for another $2000 USD. Thanh’s temporary freedom had now turned back into a new hell.
It took us 2 days but we found Thanh again, and just as they took her from us, we took her right back.
Thanh, Ny and An made it back to the border at about the same time, and are now in safe houses while making statements to the police. Blue Dragon’s Psychologists and Social Workers are looking after them as they spend these first few days as free people: able to sleep through the night, able to eat when they are hungry, able to shut the door and keep the world at bay.
They have been through weeks and months that most of us can not imagine. Denied their freedom, living in constant terror, betrayed by those they trusted.
Now they are back. New life starts today.
Read more of Michael’s blog here.