Vietnamese human trafficking ring goes on trial: Swedish Court

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STOCKHOLM (AFP) — A total of 34 people, mostly from Vietnam, went on trial in southern Sweden on Tuesday accused of trafficking people from Vietnam to Sweden, judicial sources said.

The suspects are accused of “having set up a human trafficking ring, fraud … and entering fake marriages,” Jan Waren, a judge at the Halmstad district court told AFP.

Of the 34, 15 are Vietnamese citizens, 18 are Swedes of Vietnamese origin and one is a Swede.

The police investigation, which lasted almost three years, unravelled a vast trafficking ring, the head of the policy inquiry, Marianne Paulsson, said.

She said the smuggling continued for several years, although the investigation only covered the period 2003 to 2007.

Several individuals were paid to travel to Vietnam, marry Vietnamese citizens and then bring them into Sweden, with the partners paying a large fee to be brought into the Scandinavian country.

Others also brought over children they claimed were their own but who were in fact children whose parents had paid large sums of money for them to be brought to Sweden in search of a better life.

Once in the country, the Vietnamese were entirely dependent on their smugglers, to whom they or their parents owed significant amounts of money.

“We have examples of people who worked in restaurants where the conditions more or less resembled slave labour,” Paulsson said. “Young people had to quit school to help their parents repay their debt.”

The accused allegedly earned more than 10 million kronor (1.07 million euros, 1.62 million dollars) from the alleged racket and now risk between six months and six years in prison, Paulsson said.

The court is expected to give its verdict at the end of May.

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Human Trafficking a Growing Problem

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BEIJING (AP) — Cross-border human trafficking for forced labor and prostitution is a growing problem along China’s southern border, officials said Friday at a conference on the issue.

Greater cooperation among the various countries will be needed to fight the problem and track criminal gangs dealing in humans, officials from China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam said on the final day of the conference.

China uncovered 2,500 cases of human trafficking last year, and most involved criminal gangs, Chinese Vice Minister of Public Security Zhang Xinfeng said.

Zhang said the number of cross-border cases was still small at about 100. But he added the trend was for that “to grow and we need to further strengthen our cooperation and carry out further joint actions to combat this tendency.”

A lack of reliable data makes it a difficult problem to tackle, and most of the information mainly comes from those who have been arrested and caught.

Representatives from the six countries that first reached agreement on human trafficking in 2004 met in Beijing this week to sign a declaration aimed at ending the problem.

Cambodian Minister for Women’s Affairs, Ing Kantha Phavi, said the problem was not only a matter of criminal prosecution but of prevention. She was the only representative not from a law enforcement body and the only woman at the meeting.

“We need an … approach where all ministries can work together,” she said.

Myanmar’s Minister for Home Affairs, Gen. Maung Oo, said his country had stiff penalties of 10 years in prison to death for human trafficking, but faced problems because of its porous borders.

The Bush administration has said Myanmar is ineligible for U.S. aid for failing to meet minimum standards of fighting human trafficking.

The meeting ended a day after five people were jailed for abducting and trafficking eight boys in southern China’s manufacturing center of Guangdong province.

The official Xinhua News Agency the five enticed boys with snacks. It said they then wanted to sell the boys in Fujian province for a total of $1,800.

News from Taiwan: Victims to get job skills training

Let’s not kid ourselves here, Taiwan’s government has had a very shady record when it comes to dealing with victims of outrageous human rights violation, in this case human trafficking. In response to the International Conference on Globalization and Human Rights of Migrants held at National Taiwan Normal University, Taiwan leading government heads scrambled to get remarks out in regards to the treatment of these trafficking victims. The NIA has also made many promises in the past to address the concerns of the treatment of migrants detained in the various detention centers throughout Taiwan. Nevertheless, such a statement about the future of a victim-centered approach to  trafficking victims is a step forward, if only in baby steps. Let’s hope NGOs, civil societies, and human rights activists hold the Taiwanese government’s feet to the fire. 

From Taipei Times:

HUMAN TRAFFICKING: An Immigration Affairs division director said the training would be implemented in shelters to help victims avoid being abused in the future

By Loa Iok-sin
STAFF REPORTER
Saturday, Dec 08, 2007, Page 2

Human trafficking victims awaiting return to their countries of origin may be able to work and learn new job skills in shelters starting as early as next year, a National Immigration Agency (NIA) official said yesterday.

Immigration Affairs Division Director Chien Hui-juan (簡慧娟) made the remarks when answering complaints made by a rights activist during a conference on migrant rights held in Taipei.

Zhang Yu-hua (張育華), executive director of the Taiwan International Family Association told delegates at the conference that neither the immigration authorities nor the legal system treat human trafficking victims as “victims.”

Zhang cited a case she had worked on recently as an example.

“Six Vietnamese women came to Taiwan as migrant workers,” Zhang said. “Although the broker in Vietnam told them they would be preparing food at a lunch box factory, they were sold into the sex industry instead.”

Although they were considered by police and prosecutors as victims, “they were not treated as victims,” Zhang said.

The six women were put into a shelter in March and stayed there until August when they were required as witnesses at a court hearing, Zhang said.

“They could not work during that period. They didn’t know how long they had to wait. For most of the time, they could only stay in the shelter, watching TV, sleeping and eating,” Zhang said. “They felt miserable the whole time.”

Zhang said during this time they were not asked if they wanted to be witnesses in the case, nor were they even told that they were expected to be witnesses, Zhang said.

After the six women were finally allowed to return to Vietnam in August, “an immigration officer asked us to provide evidence to prove they were victims before the NIA would waive their penalties for overstaying their visas,” Zhang said. “It makes me wonder whether they were considered victims or criminal.”

In response, Chien said the agency had started solving some of these problems.

“The Cabinet has approved a three-year project proposed by the NIA, which includes solutions to many of these issues,” Chien said.

One that may become a reality next year, Chien said, is allowing work or job skills lessons to be held in shelters.

“The reasoning behind this is, if these human trafficking victims don’t have any job skills, they may become victims of human trafficking again in the future,” Chien said. “That’s why we believe it may provide a solution to this issue if they can learn some skills while staying in the shelters.”

Police close in on internet paedophile

A prolific paedophile at the centre of an international manhunt is believed to be an English language teacher living in Thailand, police said yesterday.

Last week Interpol made an unprecedented global appeal to catch the man, codenamed Vico, who is shown sexually abusing children in about 200 images on the web.

The man had digitally altered images of himself to disguise his identity, but police managed to unscramble them. Interpol then released pictures of him and he fled to Thailand last week, three days after the images were published.

Yesterday Interpol said that the suspect, photographed abusing children in Vietnam and Cambodia, had been identified by five sources from three continents as a man teaching English at a school in South Korea.

Interpol released a picture of the man, believed to be a Canadian, who flew into Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok from Seoul on Thursday. It shows a man in his thirties with receding hair and wearing glasses.

Thai police sources said last night that he had since travelled to Vietnam and the hunt had switched there. Schools in Thailand have closed for a month. Ronald Noble, Interpol’s Secretary-General, said in a statement: “Thailand is at the centre of an international manhunt, and authorities in the country, in cooperation with Interpol and police around the world, are hunting him down.” He praised the remarkable response to the appeal and added: “We must once again enlist the public’s support, this time to pinpoint Vico’s current location.”

The man’s name, nationality, date of birth, passport number and current and previous places of work have also been established.

Police specialists are reviewing the information and although Interpol would not comment on details of the investigation, it said that all leads would be directed to Interpol’s National Central Bureau or police experts specialising in crimes against children.

Interpol made the appeal after its initial investigation across 186 countries failed to identify the man. Photographs of him abusing young boys were altered to create a swirling effect that disguised his face. But specialists from the German federal police agency, the Bundeskriminalamt, worked with the Trafficking in Human Beings Unit of Interpol to unscramble the pictures. After Interpol released a series of identifiable images of the man it received 350 messages from the public. National police forces from Interpol’s member countries also were given leads.

Kristin Kvigne, assistant director of Interpol’s trafficking in human beings unit, which is managing the case, said: “The public’s response has been very positive, and we have also had encouraging feedback from local and national law enforcement officers.”

The case is part of Interpol’s aim to collect every image of child abuse that exists on the internet. The organisation hopes to examine each image, enabling an expert to analyse pictures of abuse as soon as they arrive in police hands. The database has helped to identify more than 600 victims from 31 countries.