This week marks 10 years since Blue Dragon first went to China to rescue a teenage girl from slavery in a brothel.
At the time we had already been rescuing kids from sweatshops within Vietnam for just over a year. We were responding to calls for help from families and found that the skills we had developed working with street kids were useful in investigating missing children.
Even still, when that first case in China came up, we knew we were taking on something bigger than we had ever encountered.
That first rescue across the border was an accident. Chi*, one of the girls from our centre in Hanoi, had been missing for some months, and when she finally made a call for help she said she was in China – but nobody knew where in China. So some Blue Dragon staff just went to look and see if we could locate her, then return to Vietnam and inform the police.
We found Chi very quickly, but soon the ‘reconnaissance trip’ was a full-blown rescue operation. She saw us, and was so desperate to escape that we had no choice. It’s a long story, and in the end 6 girls returned home to Vietnam. All had been enslaved against their will in a brothel and their joy at being set free was something we had never experienced before.
That was July 2007.
Blue Dragon’s rescue work has become much more sophisticated since then, and today our operations are more than accidental. Just this past week, we rescued 2 young women who were sold into slavery in China, and represented a 13 year old girl in court after we rescued her from trafficking earlier in the year.
Our numbers are impressive. We’ve rescued 678 victims of human trafficking so far, both from within Vietnam and from enslavement in China. We’ve assisted another 328 people who were rescued by the police and asked for our involvement. And in the last 12 months, 10% of the prosecutions of human traffickers here in Vietnam have been cases we’ve been involved with. Despite our simple beginnings, we’re making an impact.
But it’s the personal stories, the individuals like Chi, that I consider to be our real success. Knowing that Chi could return home and start a new life is the most powerful evidence we have that our work is worthwhile.
Human trafficking is a very human crime. It involves stealing someone’s freedom, keeping them alive but without life, and enjoying the profit of that. We’ve walked with over 1,000 people who have suffered this, and I am still bewildered that it can happen to anyone.
Ten years ago we were just setting out on this journey. In 10 years we will still be going. Until our world is free of human trafficking, we must continue.
*Names and details are changed to protect identities.