CAPITOL HILL CONFERENCE SPOTLIGHTS HUMAN TRAFFICKING OF VIETNAMESE
The human trafficking of Vietnamese women, children and men was the subject of a conference on Capitol Hill co-hosted by Cong. Tom Davis (R-VA) and Cong. Jim Moran (D-VA) and featuring as a main speaker Amb. John Miller, the United States’ chief anti-trafficking official.
The “export” and abusive treatment of Vietnamese “wives,” children, and guest workers occurs in such countries as Taiwan, Cambodia, and Thailand, often with the collaboration of the Vietnamese government. Fr. Peter Hung, a Vietnamese Catholic priest and another main speaker, recounted his efforts in Taiwan to assist trafficking victims, including young women who were sold to men, re-sold, and eventually arrested for being in the country illegally. Fr. Hung said the shelter he founded had helped some 2,000 victims over the past several years.
Twenty NGOs from around the country, mostly Vietnamese in composition, sponsored the conference and attended a fund-raising dinner in the evening at the Fortune Restaurant in Falls Church along with some 400 ticket-paying guests.
Amb. Miller said the U.S. government was spending $95million a year to fight human trafficking, which he called “modern-day slavery.” Of the total, $17 million came from his own Office of Trafficking in Persons in the State Department. Overall, he said, the U.S. spends about ten times as much in this area as any other single country.
During a participants’ question period, Amb. Miller was peppered with queries from an audience of 50 assembled in the Gold Room of the Rayburn House Office Building. Some disapproved of Vietnam’s having been taken off the “watch list” and moved up a notch last year in the grading system used by the State Department to assess national anti-trafficking efforts, which calls for sanctions for nations that are uncooperative. Miller acknowledged there was room for disagreement, but said Vietnam did have a national anti-trafficking plan and did cooperate in international efforts, although there was much room for improvement. Miller congratulated those attending, and asked that they provide his office with information on specific cases of trafficking of which they became aware.
The Conference produced recommendations for the government of Vietnam, the U.S. government, and the international community. It asked that Vietnam increase enforcement of its own laws against trafficking “beginning with government officials involved in the human trade,” step up treatment for victims, and provide better education for women and children in rural areas to reduce the risk of their succumbing to traffickers’ deceitful propositions. Trafficking “brokers” routinely promise good jobs abroad to young women, who then find themselves virtual sex slaves, without rights and with no way to return home.
Underlying a number of the recommendations was the strongly-expressed view that trafficking victims should not be treated as lawbreakers but should instead be assisted to return to their normal lives.
Conference participants, while generally pleased with U.S. efforts to combat trafficking, also recommended higher funding for the State Department’s anti-trafficking office, urged a tough U.S. line against Vietnam and other governments that could be doing more, and called for strong U.S. support for NGO’s involved in anti-trafficking activities.