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The Star of Mai:
A Vietnamese trafficking victim drifts into Thailand

By Tran Hong Van

Nonthaburi – “If I do not use ecstasy, I cannot serve clients and they do not feel satisfied. I only have money if I give them good service,” said Mai, a 23-year-old Vietnamese woman, with a five-pointed star pricked between the forefinger and thumb of her right hand.

Mai (not her real name) is only on e of many Vietnamese trafficking victims who were sold and tricked into working in Malaysian karaoke bars and other venues such as factories, housemaid jobs and sex work.

Before coming to Malaysia, Mao worked in a cafeteria in Ho Chi Minh City. Her family lived in Buon Ma Thuot, but she left her home at the age of 17 because she could not get along with her stepmother. She has worked at the cafeteria for a short time, only a few months, but it was enough time for her to become acquainted with a man who visited the cafeteria frequently. Later he changed her life. He promised to find her a good job with a high salary as a housemaid in Malaysia. At that time, she was only 20 and she trusted him.

The man took Mai to the border of Vietnam and Cambodia and gave her to a Cambodian. After staying in Cambodia for a week to make fake documents, the Cambodian took her to Malaysia and left her at a karaoke bar named Bach Phong in the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

“Only when I went there, I knew the truth. The had sold me for the price of US$3,000. The Vietnamese man got US$500 in this deal. I cried a lot when I learned all these things,” Mai said.

The owner of the bar forced her to work there without salary until she paid him back the same amount, she said. Mai worked there for one year but she had not paid him enough yet. She lived on tips only.

Her working day started at 5pm and ended at 5am the next day. Having to serve clients at five to six tables each night, she needed ecstasy. It made her excited and helped her forget her situation, she said. The first time, she only used a quarter of a pill but later five pills were not enough.

“I was overdosed with ecstasy and I was always sleepless after I used it,” she added.

And her life passed day by day the same: apply make-up, wear sexy clothes with a number pinned on her, wait to be chosen by clients, dance and drink with them. And then go to a special room inside the bar or outside and have sex. She could earn 500 Ringgit everyday but after subtracting expenses for meals, clothes, and rent, she had no money.

“Life in the bar was similar to in prison. All of us were confined to a big flat far from the bar; five people shared a room. We were not allowed to go out alone. Every three or four months, we were permitted to out with a guardian to buy some necessary things. Every day, a van came and took us to the bar,” said Mai.

“I and some others escaped the house by climbing out the window because all of us had to work so hard and were starved,” she said. On the way back to Vietnam, she transited through Thailand and was arrested in a train station while waiting for the train.

Mai seemed to be very comfortable when she talked about her life. Only when she talked about the first time she had sex with a client, running away from the police and hiding in an underground hideout beneath the bar when the alarms turned on, did her eyes look down to the floor and her voice become lower.

Thai police took her to Kradtrakarn Home in Nonthaburi Province to prepare her for repatriation to Vietnam. She has stayed there for eight months. Officials are contacting her family in Vietnam to ensure her safe return.

“I want to go back as soon as possible. I want to start my life with an honest job,” Mai said and looked at the star in her hand. With Vietnamese people, the star is a symbol of hope.

Copyright 2009 IMMF.