The day has ended very differently to what we planned!
As I wrote on Sunday, Blue Dragon staff headed from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City on Monday night to start looking for 34 trafficked children. These kids, aged 10 to 16, were reported as having been taken from 2 remote rural villages in northern Vietnam to work in garment factories in the south.
Frustratingly for me, I had to stay behind in Hanoi. I'll be heading south on Wednesday afternoon, but it was important that I stay out of the way while the police and Blue Dragon staff carried out the surveillance on factories... And OK, I confess that I do kind of stand out, being a big white Australian bloke and all...
Two things developed, however, quite differently to expectations.
First, we found out that there were not 34 kids, but 19. And 4 of them had already escaped from a factory on Friday, so our job was to find 15.
Although it was definitely good news, I was perplexed to hear this. The very significant difference seems to mostly have come from language barriers: the villagers who reported the trafficking don't speak Vietnamese, and with a very low level of education they appear to have reported to us a list of every child and young adult who has left their villages in recent months. This included men and women in their 20s who had gone to work in the city, but were not necessarily trafficked.
Second, today turned out to be much more than just a search for the kids. As has happened with some previous rescue trips, one thing quickly led to another and soon our staff and the police were raiding 3 garment factories and getting all of the children out - in fact, it happened so quickly that we were all taken by surprise.
It was incredibly frustrating for me to be in the office getting text messages and phone updates throughout the day when I really wanted to be there in the thick of things... I needed to get some exercise this evening just to release the tension and use up the adrenalin that's been flowing all day.
I am hugely relieved, though, to know that the kids are safe. They're together in a shelter being well looked after tonight, but they are not in good health. It's evident that they are malnourished and have been locked up in factories for some months, with no free time or opportunities to get outside into the sunlight.
They are not well, and are going to need some care. But caring for kids is something Blue Dragon happens to specialise in!
I won't have many updates for the next 24-36 hours. The police now need to gather evidence and statements and work out how to proceed from the legal point of view. Vietnam introduced a new law on trafficking back in March, so the authorities haven't had much chance to test how it applies to cases like this.
Because it's now a legal matter, I can't say too much... But it's safe to say that thing aren't looking too good for the traffickers...
Once the police have done their work, we've got to figure out how to get the kids home. It's a long way from Ho Chi Minh City to Dien Bien province, and the kids are in a pretty fragile state.
So now that they're free, we'll just take one thing at a time.
And a quick P.S... We've really appreciated all the kind comments and messages of support that have appeared on our Facebook page today. Thank you! These are noticed and valued!