Cambodia: Repatriation to Vietnam

January 30th, 2008

I don’t know Tiang’s story except to say she’s Vietnamese, her mother works in a Phnom Penh brothel, and she was recently repatriated. In this part of Asia lighter skin, which being of more ‘pure’ Chinese descent begets, is viewed with greater beauty. Unlike the Khmer and Thai, whose genetics are influenced by the darker skinned Indians, the Vietnamese are of fairer complexion. This is another influence on an already complex trafficking network.

In an example of big and small non governmental organization (NGO) miscommunication, the International Office of Migration (IOM) had an existing protocol for repatriation. It wasn’t being used by many smaller NGO’s who had found, while working on their original mission (healthcare, economic development, etc.), that they were starting to address human trafficking as well.

This prompted James Pond to develop a protocol to help the small fry work with IOM and, in particular, the Vietnamese. And so, with a Cambodian IOM representative, a case worker with the Ministry of Social Affairs, James, Surin, a Transistions social worker fluent in Khmer and Vietnamese, myself (the photographer “friend”), and finally Tiang, we drove 3 bumpy hours to and from the Vietnamese border. Our driver, in spite of his competence, nearly killed about three moto riders and played chicken with larger vehicles too many times to count. Thus is the nature of the road.

Not really much to say about the process except it works. There was a lot of protocol, some posturing, and plenty of pleasantries. What I think is most important, though, is that a young Vietnamese woman–a trafficking victim–was able to go home. Legally.

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