In Legal Limbo, VN Woman Dreams of Home

“I had a bad dream about my family,” the Vietnamese woman said last month, recounting her self-mutilation on April 13 at anti-trafficking NGO Afesip’s Phnom Penh women’s shelter.

“When I woke up I was terrified and started hitting my head against the wall. Then I ran my hand along the wall and cut the skin on my wrist with my bracelet.”

The incident took place four months after the 27-year-old wo­man had agreed to ac­­­company a 40-year-old Viet­namese man she identified as Be Na by car from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh.

From Cambodia, they intended to board a boat headed to Malay­sia, where Be Na told her she would earn at least $800 a month working as a waitress.

But the pair were arrested by the Interior Ministry’s Anti-Traf­ficking Police Department at a check­­point along National Route 1, the road leading from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh.

Be Na was released by police after an hour, though the woman was detained until Feb 28.  She was then placed in the custody of Afesip by the Ministry of Social Affairs to await repatriation to Vietnam.

“Life is much better here than in jail,” she said. “But I really want to go home. I miss my family so much.”

In Malaysia, where she was headed, many Cambodian mig­rant women workers share a similar plight, languishing in jail as they await repatriation, according to Suon Visal, president-elect of the Cambodian Bar Association.

Suon Visal spoke with 38 Cam­bodian women incarcerated at a Kuala Lumpur prison while on a re­cent fact-finding trip for the Cam­bodian Women’s Crisis Center.

“Most of them had been persuaded to come and work in legitimate jobs,” he said. “But when they arrived there are no jobs, and they are forced to work at brothels or sold to karaoke bars.”

Suon Visal said that most of the women had been charged with immigration offenses and given three-month sentences.

But some had been held there for up to eight months, he said, because they were unable to pay for passage back to Cambodia.

First Secretary of the Malay­sian Em­bassy Megat Tajudin said he was not aware of a large number of Cambodian women incarcerated in Malaysian jails. Hypo­thet­ically, he said, the re­patriation of such individuals lied squarely with the Cambodian Em­bassy, and that sooner or later it would have to take action to re­patriate them.

Like those Cambodian women, the Vietnamese woman is stuck in lim­bo in Phnom Penh while her em­bassy drags through the mass of red tape needed to repatriate traf­­ficking victims, according to Afesip legal adviser Aarti Kapoor.

“The Vietnamese have to trace the victim’s background, interview their family in Vietnam, get them new documents, etc. It can take sev­eral months,” she said, adding that the long delay often causes vic­t­ims to react with anger and violence.

Nguyen Thanh Duc, Vietnam­ese Embassy spokesman, said he did not know why the woman had not yet been repatriated.

He added that cooperation be­tween Vietnam and Cambodia in anti-trafficking was “not good” and invited Afesip to contact him to discuss the woman’s situation.

Meanwhile, the woman continues to wait.

“I am [a true] Vietnamese wo­man,” she said. “There are three or four of us here in the same situation. Even if we have made a mistake, please help us to be reunited with our families.”


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