Cablegate: Trafficking Returnees in an Giang Update

Published: Thu 26 Feb 2004 01:02 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: 03 Hanoi 001671
1. (SBU) SUMMARY. An Giang province's program to help
trafficking returnees resettle has met with mixed success,
according to provincial officials. The NGO-supported project,
working in conjunction with the provincial Women's Union and the
Ho Chi Minh City-based Little Rose Shelter, has so far assisted 29
girls aged 11 to 17 from the border province who had been or have
a high risk of being trafficked to Cambodia. Officials from the
An Giang Department of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs
(Dolisa) also claimed that trafficking has been significantly
reduced in the province. Poloff was unable to meet with
trafficking returnees in the province, although Pol/Econ FSN
assistant was able to talk with two victims at the Little Rose
2. (SBU) The returnee project, done in conjunction with the
International Organization for Migration (IOM), targeted An Giang
"girls" (so far victims have ranged from 11 to 17 years old) who
had been or have a high risk of being trafficked to neighboring
Cambodia. IOM may expand the project to include other border
provinces, like Tay Ninh. This project follows an IOM-sponsored
program to train local officials to identify and locate
trafficking returnees (reftel). Victims receive four months of
psychological counseling and vocational training (sewing) at the
Little Rose Shelter, plus US$50 of start-up money upon their
return to An Giang province. The first group of fifteen victims
returned to the province in 2003, while a second group of fourteen
victims completed the returnee program on February 25, 2004. Most
of the victims were initially trafficked for labor and worked in
"cafes" in Cambodia. Both provincial and shelter officials
admitted, however, that many actually worked in the sex industry.
A third group of fourteen victims from the province arrived at the
shelter in Ho Chi Minh City on February 24.
3. (SBU) Provincial officials initially claimed that the program
had been a success for "most" women, including five who had
married since their return. When asked how many were not
successful, officials stated that only 50 percent had "stabilized"
and found jobs, but none had returned to the sex industry.
Shelter officials, however, reported that two girls from the
initial group had gone back to sex work. One girl from the second
group also dropped out of the program before completing the
counseling and training. The Women's Union representative stated
that victims did not face much discrimination upon returning to
their villages. Neighbors looked on them with "sympathy" and saw
them as "victims." According to the Women's Union rep,
discriminating against victims is not part of Vietnamese culture.
4. (SBU) Other provincial programs, funded by the GVN, IOM, and
the German NGO Teres Dez Home, include micro-credit lending for
victims or families of victims, vocational training and
scholarships for the poor and other high-risk groups, community-
based education, clubs to "advocate for the prevention of
prostitution, drugs, and HIV/AIDS," and seminars to discuss
trafficking issues. Many of these programs have been operational
for one to three years.
5. (SBU) Dolisa officials repeatedly stated trafficking was a
"police matter." In 2003 only five "complaints" had been brought
to the police, down from "tens of complaints" the year before.
They cited this as evidence that community awareness programs were
working. All "complaints" lodged in 2003 were dropped for lack of
evidence. Little Rose Shelter officials reported, however, that
after the first group of victims returned, the province claimed it
had no more cases. When two HCMC-based social workers visited
communes recommended by participants in the first group, the
social workers discovered many more cases that local/commune
officials had been unwilling to report. Shelter officials
attributed this to a concern that, if small hamlets admitted to a
trafficking problem, they would lose their status as "cultural
villages." (Post Note: This is an honorific that means, inter
alia, the community has no "social evils.") Shelter officials did
not know if this tendency to hide cases was supported at the
hamlet or commune level. An Giang Dolisa officials gave vague
statements about the number of returnees in the province overall,
ultimately admitting they were not aware of, or could not control,
most cases. They only knew of victims who had returned through
"diplomatic" channels. Officials also reported that HIV/AIDS was
"not a wide problem" with returnees, citing only "one or two"
cases, none recent. (Post Note: HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment
does not fall under Dolisa's purview in this province.)
6. (SBU) Poloff's requests to meet with returnees in the province
were denied. Women's Union officials said they might be able to
arrange something in the future, but needed advance notice to
prepare and brief the returnees for meeting with a foreigner and
to arrange a discreet meeting place. According to the Women's
Union, the presence of a foreigner in their villages would cause
hardship and discrimination for the returnees. Officials from An
Giang province, IOM, and the Little Rose Shelter all stated this
was "a very sensitive" issue to be sharing with foreigners. (Post
Note: It was unclear how much of this concern reflected a genuine
effort to protect the victims from embarrassment/shunning, and how
much reflected an effort to avoid unwanted negative attention for
the villages and province as a whole.)
7. (SBU) Pol/Econ FSN assistant was able to interview two victims
from neighboring hamlets in the second group at the Little Rose
Shelter in Ho Chi Minh City. They both said they were very happy
to be in the program. Nguyen Thi Anh Trang (protect), age 15, was
recruited by a friend to go work as a babysitter and laundress in
Cambodia to help pay off her family's debts. She ultimately
worked in a cafe owned by a friend of her first "lord." Her
friend was sold to another individua nd kled afew months
later. After nine months of mistreatment, Trang learned of her
friend's death and decided to escape. She walked across the
border during the night and made her way to her aunt's house. Her
aunt referred her to the Women's Union. Tran Thi Ngoc Nho
(protect), also age 15 and from a poor family, was "lured" by
another girl, 4-5 years older than she, to work in Cambodia as a
babysitter and dishwasher. The recruiter then left her and she
wound up working in a cafe. Because she was treated badly, she
decided to return home. Nho's mother then went to Cambodia to try
to claim Nho's salary from the cafe owner, but he refused to pay.
When the Pol/Econ FSN later returned to the shelter, she witnessed
the arrival of the third group, who were brought there by a
representative of the An Giang Women's Union, Miss Hiem. The
second group immediately ran over to Miss Hiem, surrounded her and
cheered. The Pol/Econ FSN noted the atmosphere overall was very
warm and welcoming.
8. (SBU) COMMENT: Without additional information, ConGen cannot
come to any general conclusion about the overall long-term success
of the programs or the treatment of returnees in their villages.
It was hard to pin down precise details about victims or programs,
even though the first-hand anecdotal evidence seemed genuine.
Some Vietnamese officials seemed in denial about the magnitude of
the issue. Whether this was because officials were unwilling to
share information about this "very sensitive issue" with a foreign
diplomat or because they do not have reliable statistics could not
be determined. The existence of a variety of programs focused on
trafficking victims and public awareness suggests that An Giang
province is taking some concrete steps to address trafficking, but
the jury is still out on their effectiveness.
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