‘We won’t give up:’ How this organisation is helping human trafficking victims amid COVID-19 travel restrictions

Human trafficking Source: (LightRocket)

Trafficking victims await rescue in China amid coronavirus travel restrictions.

Women and girls who might otherwise have been rescued after being trafficked into brothels or forced marriages are being forced to wait-out coronavirus travel restrictions until they are saved.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation routinely helps Vietnamese women and children who are trafficked to other countries, typically China.

Working with police in both Vietnam and China, the organisation receives calls for help from women who are desperate to escape their situation and return home, then coordinates their way back to safety.

Blue Dragon’s co-CEO Michael Brosowski explains that while rescue isn’t impossible at the moment, around twenty-two girls are awaiting their escape in desperate situations.

“I fear it might be awhile before they can make any movement,” he said.

“Blue Dragon works in crisis, this is what we do, we find young people -- whether homeless or in slavery -- we get them out and help them recover for the long term. But this period, even for us, the level of desperation has been unimaginable.”

Normally, the organisation would rescue three to four girls a week. Most of their operations have been suspended since January.

“We know things will one day will resume, until then the situation these girls and women are in is heartbreaking. We won’t give up, we will do everything we can to get to them.”

Chinese and Vietnamese authorities are vehemently against human trafficking and have successfully rescued eight women and girls, including one eight-year-old.

“Blue Dragon have been able to bring four women across the border who we’ve been able to rescue and the Chinese police have also been able to rescue eight girls, including a five year old, and transport them back to the Vietnamese border.”

Despite the travel restrictions, calls for help don’t stop, and the number of women asking for help is mounting, with their desperation rising exponentially.

“We are counselling them over the phone, investigating where they are, but we can’t get to them.

“We are getting calls from women who are more desperate than usual, one we know had attempted suicide. She just couldn’t see the reason to keep on hoping they would escape.”

When travel restrictions lift, Blue Dragon said they are ready to jump into action to save these women.

'Not kidnapping:' The story of human trafficking

Human trafficking victims in Vietnam are usually from poorer region. Blue Dragon are now concerned that school closures, along with the spike in poverty due to coronavirus, will correlate to a higher rates of human trafficking and early marriage for Vietnamese girls.

Human trafficking victims in Vietnam are typically deceived by people who they know and trust, explains Michael.

“We are not talking about kidnappings,” he said.

“We are talking about women who went to a place with someone they knew, they might have thought for a job or a holiday, and they end up being captured once they cross from Vietnam into China, then are being sold to a brothel or more commonly, into a forced marriage.”

Blue Dragon receives calls from women who are able to get their hands on a telephone, or from their relatives.

“They are in very serious and desperate situations and are desperate to get home and to safety.”

Blue Dragon coordinates with Chinese police to rescue the girls and if their location is unknown they will conduct an operation to find the women.

The women and girls are usually aged between 15 and their early twenties, though Blue Dragon have rescued infants and those in their 40s or 50s who had been trafficked twenty years ago.

“And they have only just been able to call for help.”

Blue Dragon’s Chief Psychologist Dinh Thi Minh Chau provides emergency and long term support for survivors.

“We provide safety, accommodation, food and psychological support,” she said.

“We support women and girls to integrate back into life in Vietnam. We help provide education, work and ongoing psychological support.”

Contact Emily Jane Smith at emily.smith@sbs.com.au

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