“I thought I was going to die there. I thought I would never make it home.”
Three years in slavery. A failed escape. Beatings. Thousands of miles from home. A global pandemic. A conflict zone… When Yen dreamed of freedom, an endless stack of obstacles left her faced with a harrowing reality.
There was no way out.
Yen left northern Vietnam fleeing a broken marriage and following the promise of a fresh start. Instead she found deceit, exploitation, and abuse. The acquaintance who offered Yen a job sold her into a brothel in Myanmar where she was treated brutally.
Yen risked her life to escape. Once free, she hid in the jungle and called for help.
Her plea for safety reached Blue Dragon. A rescue plan was set in motion right away but the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic brought everything to a halt. Borders were closed. Yen’s way home was suddenly blocked, and her captors were already on her tail.
Overnight, Blue Dragon lost all contact with Yen. The rescue team did not know it then, but she had been captured, severely beaten, and resold to another brothel. Our rescuers kept looking – but to no avail. We feared the worst.
Months later, Yen reached out to Blue Dragon again, and a challenging rescue operation began immediately. The journey on foot took Yen through jungles, over mountains and across rivers.
More than a year and countless horrors after that first call for help, Yen returned to Vietnam along with another young woman who had been held captive in the same brothel.
Finally, for the first time in three years, Yen was able to hold her family, eat a home cooked meal, and sleep through the night without fear.
Is rescue enough?
In nearly 20 years, Blue Dragon has rescued more than 1,300 people from human trafficking. Like Yen, they all suffered unimaginable horrors in brothels, in sweatshops, forced marriages, ‘baby farms’, ‘scam factories’… Every operation had its own challenges, and in each one Blue Dragon persevered to overcome them. Why? Because we believe that every person has the right to live with freedom, safety and dignity.
Calls like Yen’s arrive in the hundreds every year. This begs the question: is rescue enough to eradicate human trafficking?
Blue Dragon knows it isn’t. ‘Leaving no one behind’ means going above and beyond to bring people like Yen home, no matter how long it takes. It also means doing all we can to ensure no more women like Yen, no more boys, girls and men have to endure this pervasive, heinous crime.
Fighting poverty and disadvantage to end human trafficking
Traffickers prey on the vulnerable, exploiting poverty to enslave their victims. When communities lack the means and opportunities to build stable incomes and live with dignity at home, a need to migrate for work arises. Traffickers take advantage of this quest for survival to lure people into slavery with fraudulent job offers.
At least 60% of the victims Blue Dragon assists were trafficked while attempting to migrate in search of a job. Blue Dragon works with communities with a range of approaches to build resilience and help people protect themselves from trafficking.
Livelihood support is a key part of this work to lift families out of poverty. Blue Dragon provides families with farm animals, supplies, capital, training and guidance to start their own farm or small business.
“A cow or piglet not only generates income and brings food to the table, but it also brings peace to families,” says Thuy Nguyen, who leads Blue Dragon’s work in remote communities where the risk of trafficking is at its peak.
Many of the families Thuy and her team provide livelihood assistance to come from the most disadvantaged regions of Vietnam. They live in remote hamlets perched on hills and belong to ethnic minority communities that are overrepresented in all poverty indicators. Because of this, these communities also make up a disproportionate percentage of human trafficking victims.
Once they have livestock or some other way to earn money, parents don’t need to leave to find work far from home. This keeps them protected from exploitation and enables them to care for their children and keep them in school, ensuring their safety. By helping these families break the cycle of poverty, we ensure they are not left behind either.
At the community level, Blue Dragon establishes anti-trafficking boards in rural villages with high vulnerability to human trafficking.
Board members include students, parents, police officers, farmers… All work together to protect their communities from exploitation. With training and guidance from Blue Dragon, they teach their neighbours about the risks of human trafficking, take immediate action when identifying someone at risk of being trafficked, and help trafficking victims in their communities access support.
Leveraging the power of local communities is essential to ensure no one is left behind.
Keeping children in school and teaching them how to keep safe online is another key approach. Last year alone, Blue Dragon delivered cyber safety training to over 3,000 students across Vietnam. Websites and social media platforms are common recruitment channels used by human traffickers. A fake job offer or a fake friendship request on Facebook or Zalo are often the first steps in a trafficker’s plan.
“Cyber safety is as crucial as water or road safety. To ensure that every child is protected from trafficking, we teach students in ethnic minority boarding schools up in the mountains skills to protect themselves online,” says Khoa, a social worker at Blue Dragon.
Education for children, stable incomes for families, and anti-trafficking boards in vulnerable communities are just three examples of how Blue Dragon reaches out to people whose voices might otherwise be unheard.
As we mark this World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, we invite you to join us in our mission to leave no one behind in this journey towards the end of modern slavery.
You can support Blue Dragon here: www.bluedragon.org/donate