According to the Vietnamese National Committee for Combatting and Preventing Human Trafficking, 98% of survivors are trafficked abroad with 90% of survivors trafficked directly to China for the purpose of sexual or labour exploitation. 

Yen Mai has written some harrowing words that we believe everyone should read before they cast judgement on those who simply seek to free themselves from poverty.

Someone asked, if her family already has £30,000 to pay the smuggler, why didn’t she just fly commercial over to the UK and then try to find a job there? Why choose the hard way to go over there and risk her life in the process? It doesn’t make any sense.


I gave them a brief explanation as to how much their question relies on mere assumptions. The truth is, her family didn’t have that amount of money. They borrowed it to “invest” in her journey abroad, a common practice shared by many poor Vietnamese families who wish to have a chance to escape poverty. And even if they did have that money to begin with, it’s not that simple to get a visa to enter the UK. Perhaps whoever asked that question didn’t have to think about mobility and how the ability to travel anywhere in the world is not a right but rather a privilege.


I was in pain reading the news last night. In fact, I was crying for a solid half an hour. I kept thinking of how much a person is worth. The answer depends on your citizenship as it seems. We were born into a world wherein your moral worth is determined by the location of your birth. Thanks to that, some of us are already deemed “suspicious” the moment we were born. Later we venture into the world hoping to take charge of our destiny, but we would still be bound by a piece of paper. It describes us as untrustworthy, it questions our intentions, and it treats us as second-class citizens. And everyone abides by it. That’s the way migration works, everybody says. Of course, that’s the way it works, and that’s why my colleagues can just fly to a conference in the US or the UK if they want to, while I would need to sit back and calculate whether the costs and hassles of applying for an entry visa are really worth it.


I am aware that I’m already more privileged than many others. The fact that I am here working legally in Sweden as opposed to so many others whose only way to enter Europe is to make a fake passport and hide in a truck container is already evidence of such privilege. The fact that now I can vent out my anger about this injustice in a language that can be decoded by most Westerners is another proof. I have the cultural capital as well as the legitimacy to do so. But what about them? Don’t they deserve to be heard? Who’s gonna listen to their story – and by this, I mean listening without judgment? I am asking this out of the painful realization that while this case is something everyone is talking about now in Vietnam, it is not only sympathy that we offer the survivors. Someone actually said these people had it coming because they chose to betray their own country. Someone else commented, in a sarcastic tone, that perhaps they should have invested in getting smuggled rather than choosing to study abroad and then getting kicked back home as soon as they finished with their degree. Some people even blamed the survivors for being uneducated which explains why they believe all these lies coming from the human smugglers and traffickers.


Reading all of this just makes me furious. Karl Marx said something along the line of since the workers are too occupied fighting against each other, they don’t realize they are all exploited by the capitalists. Time and time again I think about this statement: it is so damn true. While many of us are busy exerting our self-righteousness by shaming others for their life choices, I wonder if anyone takes a moment to reflect on the hierarchy inherent in the migration process. Why are we treated like criminals when we try to enter a rich country? Why is the world only nice and welcoming towards a selective group of people? Why can some people just hop on the plane to wherever they want to while we have to jump through hoops to prove that we are worthy of being in another country? Why don’t we talk more about the hierarchy of citizenships that continue to justify the discrimination against immigrants from poor countries when they enter the job market? Why don’t we talk more about the need for dirt-cheap labor and our love for profit which helps drive the flow of migrants towards the West? Why don’t we talk about the infrastructure of social welfare that is almost non-existent in many countries which leads people to find social security somewhere else? Why don’t we talk about the irony that while everyone in Sweden, one of the greenest countries in the world, is freaking out about their “klimatångest”, we Vietnamese just accept it as it is, while in fact we witness climate change and suffer from pollution on a daily basis? Going out to get some fresh air – is it a right or a privilege? All I can say now is that this is not something we can do in my hometown anymore.


This tragic event is not simply an accident. It is part of what drives the world to the way it is now – an interconnected web of labor exploitation, of human rights concern and environmental pollution being ignored for capitalist profit, of hierarchical relations being perpetuated every day to justify the dominance of some powerful nations over others. There will continue to be more and more survivors like the young girl in this tragic case. This world needs it. That’s how it operates – on the blood and shame of poor people who try their best to achieve the so-called American dream, only to end up disillusioned and apologizing for their own death as they suffocate inside a metal container.