Boat People SOS Helps Vietnamese Workers in Jordan Escape Beatings, Abuse
FALLS CHURCH, VA, February 29 – Over 170 Vietnamese sweatshop workers in Jordan have escaped abuses that included being beaten, overworked, and cheated out of wages, according to the US-based nonprofit Boat People SOS (BPSOS), which intervened on their behalf.
“Through the International Organization for Migration (IOM), we have succeeded in getting the Jordanian government to rescue these workers, who should be allowed to return home,” said Dr. Nguyen Dinh Thang, the executive director of BPSOS, which in 2000 played a crucial role in rescuing more than 200 Vietnamese and Chinese held under conditions of indentured servitude by the American Samoa Daewoosa sweatshop.
The workers, all women except four, had signed a contract with W&D Apparel that set their salary at US$220 per month, and had paid a Vietnamese labor export firm an advance of nearly US$1,600. However, once they were in Jordan, their employer, a Taiwanese national, confiscated their personal documents, worked them for up to 16 hours a day, and paid them only US$80-$150 per month. The workers struck for adherence to the original contract.
The company cut off food to force the workers to return to their jobs. When this did not work, on Feb. 20, the firm sent in guards and called on the police, who arrived and broke down the door to the dormitories of the striking workers. “Even a few people who were ill and lying in their beds were dragged out and beaten,” said a worker quoted in the Vietnamese press.
Upon hearing this news, BPSOS contacted the US Department of State, which then alerted the IOM office in Jordan. BPSOS then worked with the IOM to devise a rescue plan, guided the workers to the Ministry of Labor’s local office, and interpreted for nine workers as they reported the mistreatment and requested intervention.
“I am very impressed with the IOM’s responsiveness and the Ministry of Labor’s swift action,” said Thang. “Since then, I’ve served as liaison and interpreter for all parties, comforted the workers, and guided them on how to proceed and protect themselves. They have access to my personal number at all times and have called me whenever they’ve felt intimidated or uncertain.”
A doctor was sent in and five critically ill workers were taken for emergency medical treatment at a nearby clinic. Throughout the ordeal, the strikers have said that they want to return to their homeland.
“This is human trafficking,” said Dr. Thang. “When you entice someone abroad and then beat them, cheat them, and deny them medical care, that violates both national and international law.”
“We are concerned that these people’s troubles will not end here,” said Thang. “When they get home, many of these workers will have to face the loan sharks who helped them advance money to the labor export firm. We are working on different strategies to help these people get back on their feet.”
Boat People SOS is a Vietnamese-American community-based organization with 15 branch offices across the United States. The nonprofit’s program areas include health awareness, youth mentoring, advocacy, domestic violence, human trafficking, and community development.
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