A court in north-central Vietnam’s Ha Tinh province on Thursday sentenced a labor broker convicted of sending workers illegally overseas to a five-year term in prison, state media reported on Thursday.
Phan Van Loi, described by prosecutors as a “tycoon” in his trafficking organization, had worked with relatives living in Taiwan in early 2018 to bring 48 Vietnamese onto the self-governing island, charging each migrant U.S. $6,500, with $500 paid in advance, media sources said.
Of the 48 workers sent illegally to Taiwan after crossing Vietnam’s border with China, two died after their vessel capsized at sea, and 28 were discovered en route and arrested by Taiwan’s coast guard.
The People’s Court of Ha Tinh’s Nghi Xuan district handed Phan a five-year term, considered lenient, after Phan confessed his wrongdoing and pointed to what he called “meritorious contributions” made by his family to Vietnam’s communist revolution, state media said.
News of Phan’s sentencing came as U.K. authorities worked this week to identify the bodies of 39 victims, many of them believed to be Vietnamese, found in a refrigerated truck on an industrial estate near London on Oct. 23.
Thirty families from four north-central provinces of Vietnam have come forward to report losing contact with their family members in the wake of the discovery, with police in Nghe An saying that 18 families had lost contact, while Ha Tinh recorded 10 families saying their loved ones could not be reached.
Meanwhile, Nghe An’s Public Security Service on Oct. 29 announced the arrest of four members of a government-licensed workers’ consultancy and training center who had conspired to fraudulently recruit Vietnamese workers to travel to Australia, state media reported.
Named in the indictment against them were Le Duy Anh, 40, Tran Thi Thanh, 60, Ho Thi Hang, 54, and Tran Thi Ha, 45, media sources said, adding that from September 2015 to January 2019 the group had collected hundreds of thousands of dollars and over 400 applications from workers hoping to make the trip but had yet to send anyone abroad.
According to statistics from Vietnam’s Foreign Labor Department, in the first nine months of 2019, more than 104,000 Vietnamese workers went abroad to work, an increase of 2.15 percent compared to the same period in 2018.
State media in Ha Tinh province reported that in the first eight months of 2019, nearly 42,000 people moved out of the province. Among them, many went abroad to work illegally, the reports said.
Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces were the regions hardest hit by a major toxic spill in April 2016 by a steel plant owned by Formosa Plastics Group, a large Taiwan-owned industrial conglomerate, that contaminated more than a hundred miles of coastline in four coastal provinces and devastated fishing communities.
Many Vietnamese households send their children abroad to make a living, especially through illegal labor, Vietnamese analysts say, often amassing crushing debt to pay for air tickets and smugglers’ fees.
Beyond poor job prospects, environmental disasters and government repression on Catholics drive immigration, they say.