This is what it’s all about

After a terrifying year enslaved in a brothel, Linh is home. Her rescue reminds us that there is much we can do to end human trafficking.

For a few moments, 13-month-old Bi looked mystified as he stared at the woman before him. She was both familiar and foreign, leaving him lost in a haze of confusion.

But as she held him to her body and cried his name, understanding dawned on Bi’s face. This was his mother.

Linh and Bi, reunited.

Bi’s mother Linh left their home in southern Vietnam almost a year ago.

She didn’t want to leave her son but felt that she had no choice. Her little boy, then just 3 months old, was growing fast and Linh knew that she needed an income. In their quiet village in the Mekong delta, there were no factories or businesses with jobs on offer. So she set out to find work further afield, leaving Bi with his grandmother.

Linh just wanted to earn enough so that she could send money home each month for her mother and her child to survive.

Thinking that she was on her way to northern Vietnam for a job in a restaurant, she was instead trafficked to Myanmar and sold into a brothel. For almost a year, life was a constant hell. The only thing that sustained her through the pain and terror she endured was the hope that she could hold her child again one day.

Blue Dragon went in search of Linh. Following a complex operation, we brought her home last week, along with other women who had suffered similar fates at the hands of the traffickers.

Home again

Most likely, Bi will grow up remembering neither his year without a mother nor the day she returned home. But the pain of separation and the joy of their reunion is certainly something that Linh will never forget.

Blue Dragon has rescued more than 1,500 people from places of slavery: brothels, sweatshops, forced “marriages” and forced labor. We’ve brought home people who were tortured, shot, operated upon, raped and beaten.

While it’s the rescue that seems most dramatic, it’s the moment of reunion that is the most powerful.

Some journeys home end with tears of devastating grief. There are people we’ve rescued who were away for many years and returned to find their parents have died, never knowing what fate befell their missing child.

Some journeys end in shock, like the teen we rescued who had no idea she was pregnant with twins.

And some journeys end with the true joy of a family reunited, of hope restored.

Life is a long story and continues well beyond the rescue operation.

The children, women and men we bring home invariably struggle with trauma, feelings of shame and the hardship caused by months and years lost to slavery. But by far, most go on to write their own story of survival. Some pick up where they left off while others start over anew.

Perhaps the deepest cruelty of human trafficking is that it denies its victims the control of their own life, their own story. People in slavery have little agency over their day to day; “tomorrow” is beyond imagination.

Right now, there are so many more people awaiting rescue. We must find them and bring them home, while at the same time doing all we can to end human trafficking forever.

To see Linh back with her family, once again the author of her own story, is what drives us on to do this work.

In a world where the news is filled daily with stories and images of tragedy out of our control, this is something that we can do.

If you can, please consider a gift to Blue Dragon’s urgent appeal. All funds raised will go toward operations to rescue people trapped in slavery.

Will this ever get better?

Trinh feared she would never see her family again. Today, she is safely home. What can we do to end this crisis once and for all?

On Saturday morning, Trinh walked across the border back to Vietnam.

It was a long journey home for the 31-year-old. Almost a year ago, she was trafficked to Myanmar and sold into a brothel: a violent, terrifying place where she believed she would surely die.

Trinh had the courage and good fortune to one day be able to call for help. This set in motion Blue Dragon’s rescue operation which came to fruition on the weekend when she finally reached her homeland.

Trinh on the journey from Myanmar to Vietnam.

The path home was long and dangerous. Trinh and the rescue team crossed rivers and jungles, taking boats, motorbikes and buses to escape danger and make it home safely.

And Trinh’s rescue isn’t the only one we’ve been working on. As I write this, we have 8 more operations underway, bringing home a total of 17 more people.

As we complete them, new operations will begin immediately.

Calls for help

Blue Dragon is on track this year to rescue from slavery double the number of people we rescued in 2020. That’s a rapid and deeply worrying growth in the need for our services.

So we’ve just launched an emergency appeal, asking friends around the world to donate to this work.

The problem is: We did the same thing last year.

Does this mean we’ll be calling for urgent help like this every year?

I want to believe that the answer is ‘no’. Looking forward, there’s hope that this crisis in human trafficking will eventually peak and recede. I shared my thoughts on why I remain optimistic in this post just a few weeks ago.

But I also know that human trafficking isn’t a problem that will disappear any time soon. While Blue Dragon is working on a big picture initiative to reduce its incidence across Vietnam, we know that it will take a long-term effort to really make a difference.

And as a charity, the only way we can make anything happen is by asking for support from the global community.

All of which means that we may well be calling again for urgent help. Not because we want to, but because that’s the only way we can respond to the children, women and men in slavery who are desperate for someone to rescue them.

As we rescue, we’ll keep on working to strengthen communities so that people are safe from being trafficked in the first place.

We have to believe that one day this work will be over. When there’s no more need to rescue another person, Blue Dragon’s job will be done.

Thank you to all who have already donated. If you can, please consider a gift to Blue Dragon’s urgent appeal.

Where are we now?

Human trafficking and slavery continue to take new forms, constantly staying a step ahead of attempts to keep people safe. Is there any light at the end of this tunnel?

It’s been a few months since I wrote my last post.

What’s changed since then? Nothing. And everything. All of it.

Blue Dragon’s rescues continue. Continue to grow in number, continue to grow in urgency. That’s not new.

But the numbers calling for help are new. In the second half of 2023, we rescued 7 times the number of people we rescued in the first half. Looking ahead to the coming months, those numbers are still growing.

Crossing a river during a rescue operation.

And the urgency of every call is beyond what we’ve seen before. Messages are coming to us along the lines of:

“Please help my sister, she is in Myanmar and the trafficker plans to take her kidneys.”

“I am desperate. All night I hear bombs and gunfire. I don’t want to keep living.”

“Send help, please! We are being tortured. They used an electric prod on me and now I cannot walk.”

Trafficking in all its forms is horrible, but these new levels of barbarism are shocking nonetheless.

So is there any hope at all?

When talking about human trafficking, I’m always careful of two things. First, I never exaggerate how bad things are. This includes sharing rumours or speculating. And second, I never give false hope when there’s really none to be had.

But despite all of these developments, I do believe there’s still hope. There’s light at the end of this tunnel.

Life is getting harder for the traffickers who are luring people into Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, where they are violently enslaved and forced to scam people online.

People are hearing about their tricks and are less likely to fall for them.

International pressure is causing some of these scam operations, which have enslaved over 200,000 people in south-east Asia alone, to close.

Police from China, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos have been pursuing the criminals behind the trafficking and scams, reportedly arresting thousands of people involved.

And rebel armies in northern Myanmar have sworn to shut the scams down as they take control of new territory.

Although the situation right now is worse than it’s ever been, we’re seeing signs that maybe, just maybe, the tide is starting to turn.

I hope I’m not speaking too soon. But it’s definitely too soon to give up hope.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation is on a mission to end human trafficking. 

Rescue flight

Dozens of women and girls rescued from slavery in Myanmar have returned to Vietnam on a rescue flight over the weekend.

On Saturday afternoon, Lang disembarked her flight and stepped into Vietnam for the first time in 6 months.

Lang was one of 49 women returning home after a terrifying ordeal in Myanmar.

49 survivors of human trafficking prepare to board the flight from Myanmar to Vietnam, November 6 2021.

Each has their own story about how they were trafficked from Vietnam. Most believed that they were on their way to good jobs in China or travelling with friends they trusted.

Each of them was horrified when they learned the truth: that they had been taken to northern Myanmar where they were sold into brothels.

The traffickers operating this ring are sophisticated, well organised, and deadly. They do not tolerate dissent or complaints. There are credible reports of Vietnamese women being killed in the brothels for trying to escape.

Lang thought that she was going to China to work in a factory. She didn’t even know that she had crossed into Myanmar. She trusted the people who were leading her and the other young women who shared her fate.

There was something else of great importance that Lang did not know when she was trafficked. She was pregnant.

Getting back to Vietnam is particularly important to Lang. Her time in Myanmar has been deeply traumatic; her only wish is that she can bring her child safely into the world. Now that she is on her way home, she can do that.

The months that she spent in captivity, being raped over and over, will scar her for the rest of her life. But for now, she is elated to be back in Vietnam. Once she has completed her mandatory quarantine, she will report to the police with assistance from Blue Dragon.

Then she will either return to her family home or stay with Blue Dragon to receive further assistance. Lang and many of the women will need psychological counselling, healthcare, and practical help to return to education and jobs, or to start small businesses.

Many more Vietnamese women and girls await rescue and repatriation in northern Myanmar, where there has long been a nature of lawlessness, far from the capital city Yangon. Every person held in slavery in this area is under constant threat to their life. We believe that there are many hundreds more women enslaved in the brothels.

Lang’s group, returning to Vietnam after many weeks of delays because of COVID, is the tip of the iceberg.

Blue Dragon was able to bring the women back thanks to a donation for the operation, and support from the Vietnamese Embassy in Myanmar.

This flight has brought Lang and many others safely home, but the work is far from done. Blue Dragon will continue working until every trafficked person is set free.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis. We’ve just launched our annual Christmas appeal, and ask for your help to provide meals to children and families.