Last week, Blue Dragon rescued 17 people from slavery.
Then on the weekend we rescued three more.
Each person has their own story, their own set of unfortunate circumstances as to how they came to be targeted by human traffickers.
All are Vietnamese people and we rescued them from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. You can read here about how we conduct our rescue operations.
To bring home 20 people in the course of a week is an excellent outcome of our work. And we have rescue operations underway right now which will bring more more people home in the coming weeks.
But there’s a problem.
With the recent advent of ‘scam centres’ and the explosion of illegal casinos and brothels in northern Myanmar, human trafficking and slavery in the region is at massive levels. Probably higher than it’s ever been.
I’ve seen recent estimates of 100,000 people in slavery in Cambodian scam centres and another 150,000 people in Myanmar.
Against that background, is the rescue of 20 people something to celebrate?
The world to me
Of course, to each of the 20 people we rescued last week, Blue Dragon has changed the world.
A week ago, each was terrified. They had been deceived by people they trusted. Sold against their will. They knew that they might never see their families again.
Coming home after an experience like that brings a sense of relief and joy that no words can describe.
So although our week’s rescue operations barely scratch the surface of the 250,000 or more people who are in slavery right now, for those 20 people we’ve changed the world.
And for our work to be truly effective, we will now follow up with help to recover and rebuild: legal representation, psychological counseling, financial assistance and education.
Either / Or
On the human level, Blue Dragon’s rescue operations are of huge significance in people’s lives.
And in conducting them, we are not trapping ourselves into a false dichotomy of either rescuing people or preventing human trafficking.
We’re doing both.
Across Vietnam, Blue Dragon works in villages and cities to assist people who we can see are at high risk of being trafficked.
How do we know who is vulnerable to this crime? Well, we’ve rescued about 1,400 people so far, so we know a lot about how trafficking happens. We’ve even conducted research on the issue and published our findings.
Keeping people safe from trafficking involves a multi-pronged approach based on the local needs.
Keeping kids in school is important, but you have to make sure the schools have good facilities and resources so that kids will stay.
Families need safe houses and jobs. Parents who are in debt, or have a disability, or are raising their children alone, may require special assistance.
And communities need local leaders who understand and recognise human trafficking – and know what to do if they suspect it has happened.
All of this, and more, prevents trafficking when efforts are coordinated and highly targeted to a community’s specific circumstances.
While we rescue, Blue Dragon is also leading these efforts and documenting what we learn along the way.
The bigger question
Rescue must remain an important part of anti-trafficking efforts. After all, even if human trafficking was stopped today, there are still 250,000 people in one type of slavery in just two countries.
Blue Dragon’s rescues of 20 people one week and 10 people another week will never be enough to set free every person in slavery. We know that. But we’re certainly doing everything in our power to help those we can.
And while we do that, we’re continuing to work on the much bigger question of how to stop human trafficking before it even happens.
Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation is on a mission to end human trafficking.