“We came across trafficking by accident, and committed to end it by choice”

January 9, 2021

As we reach the important milestone of 1,000 people rescued from slavery, Blue Dragon’s anti-trafficking coordinator Luong Le documents the incredible stories of the people who make these rescues possible.

This week marks an important milestone at Blue Dragon: we have rescued the 1000th victim of human trafficking.

Our journey to end modern slavery began in 2005, when the founder of Blue Dragon met a 13-year-old boy who had been brought from Hue province to Ho Chi Minh City under false pretences, and was forced to sell flowers, then hand the money to a gang. We rescued the boy and helped him return home. There, we learnt that hundreds of children had been trafficked to sell flowers or be exploited in garment factories.

In 2005, Blue Dragon stumbled upon that first trafficking case by accident. But from that moment on, we committed to fight this crime by choice.

We believe that everyone should have the right and freedom to make their own choice of who they want to be, what they want to do and whom they want to be with.

Rescuing victims of trafficking and providing support for survivors to heal is a long and complicated process. Between that very first boy from Hue and the 1000th victim who regained her freedom this week, there have been thousands of sleepless nights, countless calls to keep the survivors’ hope alive, and hundreds of thousands of kilometres of travel.

Every rescue is the result of the efforts of a team whose members work tirelessly and conscientiously. Each of us joined Blue Dragon at a different time and has a completely different role, but we are all committed to doing whatever it takes to bring survivors of trafficking back home.

Here are some of the most defining moments and impactful memories each of us has from these years of fighting human trafficking.

Van – Chief Lawyer – 15 years rescuing women and children from slavery

Our approach, and the implementation of every rescue, is guided by one man: Blue Dragon’s chief lawyer, Van Ta. Van was a third-year Law student at the time that our founder, Michael Brosowski, met the 13-year-old boy who was being forced to sell flowers. Van arranged for the boy’s release over the phone – his first rescue of a trafficked child. Since that very day, Van has been involved in every operation to free children, men and women from slavery. 

Van coordinating the logistics of a rescue operation from Blue Dragon’s centre in Hanoi.

Today, Van doesn’t ‘only’ lead Blue Dragon’s rescue work. He also represents victims of trafficking in court to see justice is served.I have witnessed with my own eyes the pain human trafficking causes, while working with parents who have spent years desperately looking for their missing children. But I have also seen the happiest tears when they’ve been reunited. Those reunions are what inspires me every day to keep working to bring more victims of human trafficking home.” Van is a real-life hero. You can see for yourself in this animated film that recreates his work to free people from slavery.

Hong – Senior Lawyer – 15 years giving survivors their identity back

Hong has also been involved in Blue Dragon’s rescue work since the first day. Her most unforgettable memory is our first rescue of a victim of sex trafficking in China, back in 2007. “When I went to the police about the incident, I didn’t even know it was a trafficking case,” she admits.

Hong is specifically in charge of helping survivors obtain their identity papers, which are often lost or confiscated during the experience of trafficking. “It’s just a piece of paper, but I’m proud of my work because that is the beginning of their healing process.” Thanks to those documents, victims can be identified and can access crucial rights like healthcare and government support.

Hong during a registration campaign to assist remote communities to obtain identity documents.

“It’s hard work, and it requires a lot of travelling. But seeing the joy of each victim and their family, and how my work contributes to their joy and hope for the future, even if it’s just a little bit… That’s the driving force for me to keep up my work.”

Nam – Hue Provincial Coordinator – 11 years fighting child labour

“I saw a stranger come and help children in my hometown, and realized I wanted to help my people too.” That stranger who inspired Nam to help was Van, Blue Dragon’s chief lawyer, who Nam met in 2008. 

Back then, Van would often travel from his home in Hanoi to Hue to meet families and gather information… and later, to bring home children he had rescued. Nam immediately wanted to help. First, he became a volunteer, and after a year, he decided to start working for Blue Dragon so he could help children full-time.

Nam distributing emergency aid to families affected by the floods in Hue in October 2020.

It’s been nearly 11 years, but Nam still remembers vividly his first rescue operation in Ho Chi Minh City. When he accompanied four children home by train, some passengers asked him why he was travelling with so many children. He proudly answered: “I am taking them home.”

Thuc – Driver – 8 years driving victims to safety

For long trips and rescues in the most remote areas, the companionship and skills of Blue Dragon’s driver Thuc are indispensable. Thuc has been part of the rescue team for 8 years, and he sometimes sees his work as an action movie: full of tension and difficult, but very meaningful.

For Thuc, a month of work can involve 26 days of travelling with the rescue team to remote locations to verify a trafficking case; rescue the victims; bring them to safety; and finally to accompany them back to their hometowns to be reunited with their families.

Thuc fixing the car during a rescue operation in 2015.

The rescue of 60 victims in 2015 is one of the most memorable for him. He and Van were on their way back from a trip to provide training to police on trafficking prevention when the chief lawyer received a call alerting him to a trafficking case that was taking place that very moment. 

There was no time to rest or hesitate. The minute Van hung up the phone, they changed their route and set out to catch up with the traffickers. Together with the authorities, Thuc and Van frantically followed the group of traffickers and victims for hours from a bus station in Hanoi all the way to the border with China. The traffickers changed routes and vehicles several times, but Thuc never lost track of them. When they finally stopped at the border crossing, the 60 women, children and young adults were rescued, moments before they were to be taken across the border and sold into slavery.

‘Uncle’ Due – Security guard – 9 years welcoming survivors with a smile

No matter what our job description says, everyone at Blue Dragon contributes to the rescue and assistance of victims of trafficking. And our devoted security guard ‘Uncle’ Due is typically the first to greet a trafficking survivor as they arrive to safety. 

Blue Dragon - safeguard

‘Uncle’ Due helping with gardening work in one of Blue Dragon’s project locations.

He must often wake up in the middle of the night to welcome newly rescued victims to Blue Dragon’s safe homes, but never has a complaint. He is proud of his contribution. “I am the first person the victims meet when they arrive, that’s why I always smile at them. I want them to feel safe and know that everyone here welcomes and cares about them.”

Mai – Social worker – 8 years caring for survivors

Rescue is essential but being freed from slavery doesn’t necessarily secure a happy ending. Survivors of trafficking often need many types of support to return to their communities and rebuild their lives.

Mai was the first social worker to join Blue Dragon with the specific mission of providing psychosocial services for victims of sex trafficking to recover, heal and thrive. In her 8 years with Blue Dragon, Mai has laughed and cried; she has helped survivors through their darkest days and also shared in the joyful moments of their healing journey.

Mai visiting a survivor of trafficking and her family in their home.

Of all her experiences at Blue Dragon, the most memorable for Mai is a trip to the border area to pick up a newborn child. Mai remembers how tiny the baby looked when she first saw her. Born prematurely, the baby was lying in an incubator. Because of poverty and lack of knowledge, ethnic women are deceived to cross the border, give birth and sell their newborns. They do so with the belief that their children will have a better future. That case showed Mai a particularly cruel variant of the crime of human trafficking: when babies become a target before they are even born, and are treated as a commodity to buy and sell.

Thuy – Psychologist – 2 years guiding the survivors’ healing journey

There are many victims and many stories, so when asked about their most memorable or proudest moment, Blue Dragon staff often find it difficult to reply. But for Thuy, a  psychologist at Blue Dragon, the answer came to mind instantly: the victim who made the deepest impression on her had been tricked and sold as a prostitute in China, forced to serve many male clients a day.

Thuy during a counselling session with a survivor of trafficking.

Being sold and abused in such a brutal way is always a horrible experience. In this case in particular, there was an extra layer of pain: despite having always identified as a transgender male, the victim was forced to behave and please the clients as a woman, a severe identity crisis adding to the already terrible trauma he’d experienced.

How much longer?

The feelings of the victims when they return to Vietnam after trafficking and prepare to go home help us truly understand the value of freedom. 

Blue Dragon cares for and accompanies many survivors throughout their healing journey. For each person, their rescue marks the beginning of a whole new life, although the difficulties ahead after being rescued are many. Their courage to overcome these difficulties and misfortunes, to return home and start a new life, is what inspires and motivates all of us at Blue Dragon to continue our work.

It took us 15 years to rescue 1,000 victims of trafficking. How long will it take to reach 1,500 or 2,000? We wish those milestones are never achieved. We dream that we don’t have to witness another reunion again, because the day our work comes to an end, we will have ended trafficking altogether. And that’s exactly what we strive for: eradicating modern-day slavery, so that no family must suffer the devastation it causes ever again.

If you would like to contribute to the rescue and care of trafficked people, you can donate here. 

 

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