The gangs who trade in people | DW Documentary
12-year old Lan suffers from heart disease. Despite that, she is forced to work illegally in the German capital, Berlin. Her story sparked a major criminal investigation and trial. The author of this documentary has gained access to case files.
Young Lan is just one of many who’ve fallen victim to human traffickers. Shall we begin? Andrej and his gang had links to the Vietnamese human trafficking mafia. They transported hundreds of Vietnamese nationals from Lithuania to Berlin via Warsaw. I would never strike one of them. I’m afraid it might kill them. They’re tiny, 40 to 50 kilos tops. Of all those we transported, there were just a few that were heavier.
The rest were so skinny, especially the boys. There weren’t many girls. There’s not enough awareness in Germany about human smuggling. Especially when it comes to trafficking from Vietnam. Year on year we see an increase in the number of Vietnamese.
These young people often have been through horrendous experiences. I’d describe it as modern-day slavery. Markus Pfau is with the German Federal Police. He’s in charge of
fighting organized crime in central Germany. An expert in human trafficking, he’s been trying for years to crack the Vietnamese organized crime networks. These networks operate on a very hierarchical basis. They are highly
professional and cooperate in other forms of organized crime or criminal activities. The traffickers have been smuggling Vietnamese nationals through Poland for years. Thousands have been brought to Germany along this route and Polish customs officers rarely uncover these smuggling operations.
Most make it through? ?including many young people and children. Children such as 12-year-old Lan. She was smuggled over the Polish border into Germany in August 2015. Berlin authorities never investigated where
she was held in Poland or for how long. Here! This building, right here. This is where they were initially held. The bus parked here and then
came a text, ‘we’re here’. Or one of my drivers would arrive. And after a few minutes they came out this entrance, here. How many? It was always different. Two, five, seven. Girls. Women, too. Young? Mostly young. With them it’s hard to tell whether they’re old or young. Did you know there were a lot of minors among these smuggled Vietnamese? I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. They are so small and frail. So small. And
black. I mean the hair. Otherwise, they’re yellow. Chung is one of many smuggled in by Andrej. He was brought from Lithuania to Warsaw, where he went underground. I feel calmer when I'm drawing. Something like this. It helps me be calmer.
Chung lives in constant fear of the human traffickers. In Vietnam he lived with his grandmother. His parents are dead. And then his grandmother died too. He eked out a living collecting mussels, snails, driftwood and plastic bottles.
I was 15. A man came to me and asked if I’d like to have a job and make a lot of money. It was a short conversation and he spoke very pleasantly and friendly. I was just a kid; I didn’t know anything. So, I
did what he told me. They didn’t explain what kind of work and for how long. Only that I’d be moving to Germany. The human smuggling route from Vietnam to Poland. Like most of his
compatriots Chung traveled across Russia to the Baltic nations and then to Poland. Along the way he was held in abandoned warehouses, sometimes locked in for weeks at a time. Chung isn’t sure exactly where. During those times I couldn’t go outside. Nowhere. The whole day in those warehouses. Morning, noon, afternoon, and night. But I heard from others that we were in Russia. I asked the Vietnamese there if I could go outside. He said no, don’t go outside. He told me that another guy
tried to escape and was shot in the leg. So, I didn’t ask any more questions and didn’t dare even think about it anymore. And from there? From Lithuania? We brought them here! I mean we were there at the time. We put them in the buses. How many can you fit inside those kinds of busses? It depends. One of my men was apprehended. He had 12 of them. I had no idea. We’d agreed on eight but they gave him 12.
About 40-thousand Vietnamese live in the Polish capital. It’s one of the biggest communities in Eastern Europe. Warsaw is a thriving hub for human trafficking between Vietnam and western Europe.
For example, we brought 20 to 30 people here. To this house here. Or directly to the trading center. Or to this temple here. We drove them. They came here to pray. And where did they go from here? To France for instance, or Berlin. Let’s go. As Chung was being transported to Germany, the driver lost control of the mini-van just before the border. There were serious injuries in the
accident. The driver and all on board were arrested, including eight minors. Boys and girls. It was the start of a major investigation by Polish authorities. Chung was a star witness and gave comprehensive testimony.
I’m still afraid. The guy next to me hit his head against something and there was blood all over his face. It still frightens me. The human traffickers’ cell phones were confiscated and the data analyzed, including GPS data. Authorities were able to piece together the smuggling routes. Well over one hundred smuggling operations were carried out within eight months, using three vehicles.
Andrej was the lead driver. A Vietnamese national living in Warsaw contracted Andrej and his two accomplices to transport illegals to Germany — in mini-vans. The Polish smugglers received about 500 Euros per person. 12-year old Lan made it to Berlin. She lived in a high-rise in the Marzahn district, with a Vietnamese man who she described to authorities as her father. An intentional deceit. Her actual parents remain in Vietnam.
A few days later, another Vietnamese girl arrived here - also claiming that the man was her father. German federal police apprehended the 15- year old on the Polish-German border. It’s a problem Federal officials are increasingly confronted with. Cases involving the smuggling of young Vietnamese boys and girls have increased dramatically over the past few years. Those who are apprehended
end up at emergency facilities near the border, like this one in Eisenhüttenstadt. But sources in emergency child protection services near the border tell us that most of the children who are brought here quickly disappear. No one was willing to speak to us officially. But one caseworker described the situation under the condition that he remain anonymous.
This problem has been recognized for a long time. Smugglers bring them to Germany and the few that are apprehended are brought to us. And more often than not, they disappear from this facility after one or two hours. And then? We have to file a missing persons report with the police. But most of
the time nothing happens. If a German child goes missing there’s a massive effort to locate them. But nothing gets done when it’s a young Vietnamese. The question is, how many Vietnamese young people have gone under the radar in Germany. Where are they? And what happens to them. We researched those questions for months, making hundreds of inquiries. What we discovered is a state of absolute chaos among the responsible agencies. Conflicting answers — contradictory statistics. One thing
is sure. Hundreds are unaccounted for, with most of those thought to be in Berlin. And the numbers have been growing for years. Why aren’t police looking for them? The search for missing illegals only becomes active when certain criteria are met. For instance, if there’s the possibility that someone's in danger. And that metric doesn’t apply to young Vietnamese? Usually this ‘danger’ doesn’t apply when it comes to the missing Vietnamese young people who’ve been smuggled in.
So, Berlin criminal authorities see no ‘danger’. And at the same time, Vietnamese children are disappearing all over Europe - in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Sixty-seven young Vietnamese disappeared from high security facilities like this one in the Netherlands.
Journalist Sanne Terlingen uncovered the story. She’s been investigating the fate of refugee minors in Europe for years. We were looking for a story that would reveal what kind of problems there were. To show that there was really a problem, we started to look into the shelter that was most protected. We have two of them in the,
Netherlands. One in the north and one in the south. Both at secret locations. Terlingen is the first journalist in the Netherlands to investigate these secret facilities.
I got loads of internal documents so I could learn a lot from that. They place a nightwatch in front of the building. They lock the windows. But what they see is it's a children's steal knives from the kitchen to break open the windows. They spray perfume on the fire alarm, which makes the door open. And vehicles were already waiting outside these high security facilities.
And what you could see is that it looks like they disappear voluntarily because they go away by themselves. But the pressure on them is so high because they have to pay debts to these traffickers. Her in-depth reporting unleashed a wave of outrage in the Netherlands. The government reacted by launching a wide-ranging investigation. Huub Jaspers is Terlingen’s boss. He was surprised at the results
of that investigation. The bottom line of the report was that many, many Vietnamese minors have simply disappeared. Even more than our own research uncovered. To be precise, fully 97 percent of those registered as minors in the Netherlands have disappeared without a trace. Because they are minors, they should receive special protection in the Netherlands.
It’s the same story in Germany. The disappearance of young Vietnamese is precisely planned and executed. It looks as if these minors have very precise instructions that they adhere to. They know who to contact and where they have to go. There are meeting points and things like that. Some of them are picked up directly
outside our facilities. You were in Berlin? Yes. Where exactly? Herzstrasse, or something like that. Number 128, that I know for sure. What was it? Some kind of house? What was there? Clubhouses.
Vietnamese clubs? Exactly. And there was a tram line on the street where we drove inside the first gate. That I still remember. Right, trams. We entered through a gate after driving past an old house. The first restaurant on the left...there. A Vietnamese restaurant. That’s where we let them out and that’s where they were picked up. ?
At the first restaurant. Lan’s supposed ‘father’ is one of those who made the pickups. Berlin police had him and his accomplices under surveillance and were monitoring their communications.
In fact, Berlin and Polish authorities were investigating the same smuggling ring. But they weren’t sharing their findings. There was no cooperation whatsoever, despite the fact that the meeting points for traffickers were an open secret. Senior management at the detention facilities confirm that there were cases of human trafficking. Once police were informed, security at the facilities was increased. Vietnamese human trafficking runs through these hubs. They have safe
houses where basic needs are taken care of. The safe houses are usually rented apartments, mostly larger apartments. They are sublet through people who belong to the smuggling network or through third parties who apparently have nothing to do with the illegal activities. And these apartments are used as cover for human trafficking. Lan and her alleged ‘sister’ lived at one of these safe houses. Her
purported father also brought other trafficking victims from the Dong- Xuan-Center to the apartment, where they were held captive. Sometimes they were kept for weeks until smuggling payments were completed. Often, up to five people lived here at the same time. Right here in Berlin we investigated cases where smugglers put people in these safe houses. And they were only allowed to leave once the smuggling ‘fee’ was paid off. Usually, it was the family back in Vietnam who paid. There were cases where payments weren’t kept up and that’s when the abuse started...as a means of pressuring the family to pay the
remaining balance. Dorothea Czarnecki is with ECPAT, a worldwide network of organizations who advocate for children’s rights. ECPAT has sponsored the most comprehensive study to date of ‘Trade With Vietnamese Minors In Europe’.
Investigators say smugglers charge between five and 20-thousand dollars to transport people from Vietnam to Germany. That’s far more than most families can afford. 15-thousand...the money has to come from somewhere. And the smugglers demand payment. Yes, and then they have to work it off. They are exploited and forced to
work. That’s what happens. Who do they work for? For the traffickers. They have to work off their debts. This dependent relationship doesn't end once the debt has been settled. Most often it continues because the
victims find themselves trapped in a kind of downward spiral. How do we actually define human trafficking? And how does it differ from smuggling? Joachim Renzikowski is a leading expert in the study of human trafficking in Germany. He’s a professor at Martin Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg. Human trafficking is usually connected to smuggling but the term implies forced exploitation. Smuggling is defined as transporting people into a country illegally. The goal of human trafficking is
exploitation. People are sold or recruited without any say in where they’ll end up. They aren’t asked because it’s a done deal. Those who are ‘recruited’ in Vietnam are victimized long before they reach Germany. Where do they work? They work as tailors. They sew clothes...like here, for example.
Whole trucks full of clothes. And they sew them all. Illegally? They’re all illegals. They’ve crossed the border illegally. So that means they’re sewing illegally to pay off their debts. At this spot in 2017, Polish authorities freed Vietnamese slave laborers from a sewing factory. Among them were children and minors. Until they’ve worked off their debts. It doesn't matter where they are, in Poland, Germany, France or elsewhere. They have to work off their debts.
It’s logical. So, they sit down and get to work. And when someone balks or can’t take it anymore, things get physical. The smuggling mafia attracts its victims with much sweeter visions of a bright future.
Hi! Mimi Vu, the daughter of Vietnamese refugees was born in the US. She moved to Hanoi years ago to lead the fight against human traffickers and their brutal methods. Much of the mafia’s ‘recruitment is done via social media.
Social media promise you the world and wonderful salaries and also the ability to bring your families over. And what do such offers look like? So this is an advertisement of work, to work in Finland. And you're being promised monthly salary between eighteen hundreds of twenty-five hundred euros, which is 50 to 60 million Vietnam Dong. Per month. Das It's only about eight hours working per day, six days a week.
The jobs include that the employer will pay for all the meals, insurance, personal income taxes. Have you also found posts mentioning Germany as a destination country? Definitely. For sure. Those lofty promises meet with harsh reality here at Berlin’s Wartenberg train station. Though she had heart problems, Lan was forced to sell
cigarettes. Her boss was the human trafficker that city authorities believed was her father. In response to questions, the Berlin agency responsible for Education and Families confirmed — many young Vietnamese have been arrested on charges of illegal trade in cigarettes.
In summer 2019 Berlin law enforcement also confirmed the existence of criminal gangs who smuggle children and minors to Germany for exploitation. The first news accounts made headlines across Europe. The Interior Committee of Berlin’s House of Representatives named a chief investigator for organized crime. But he assured the public that no human trafficking was taking place in the German capital.
As far as we’re concerned, the criteria for human trafficking in the context of smuggling aren’t fulfilled in most cases. Those who put their trust in smuggling networks know beforehand that they will naturally have to earn some money — money that might not be available before the smuggling begins. They know that the smuggling network will give them opportunities to work, to earn money, which in turn is returned to the smuggling ring. It may seem like exploitation but it doesn’t have to be! Lan’s alleged sister was 15-years old and worked as a manicurist for 300 Euros a month.
The number of Vietnamese-run Nail studios has grown exponentially over the past few years. It’s a lucrative side hustle of the human traffickers. Illegal employment. Exploitation. Inhumane working conditions. Growing incidents of illicit labor are being reported in many German cities including Dortmund, Gießen, Essen and Münster. More and more often, when police and customs officials raid Nail studios, they find undocumented Vietnamese nationals - including numerous minors. For instance, in the town of Fulda, in the state of Hessen. I’m certain that our nail studio raids only uncovered the tip of the iceberg. These are selective raids. We believe that minors are being
forced to work in nail studios all across Germany. Our investigations and interrogations point to a central point of reference in Berlin. From there, Vietnamese laborers are sent throughout Germany to work in nail studios. In Great Britain as well, the number of Vietnamese-run nail studios is growing rapidly. And here too, police raids often turn up undocumented
minors. Many don’t even know where they are or how they got here. How did you get here? What about the trip? I was brought here from Vietnam in trucks. I don’t know how many countries we drove through...or how many times we changed vehicles. Dependent, held captive...exploited by human traffickers. Year on year we see an increase in the number of nail bars. They will be expected to work incredibly long hours. For low or no pay and are
forced to do it as well. The British government ordered a comprehensive inquiry in hopes of gaining insight into the Vietnamese human trafficking network. The investigation was led by Debbie Beadle of the children’s rights organization, ECPAT. The results released in 2019 showed that many of the victims were brought to Britain via Germany.
So, the trafficking of Vietnamese people has been identified kind of really at the last 10 years. And what we need to really look at is the amount of money that's being made. You know, these traffickers are making quite huge amounts of money. And really, we need to be making sure that we are preventing this from happening. The victims are being
supported, vulnerable people are being supported, and that these people are prosecuted for crimes that they've committed. So Great Britain handles this problem much differently than Germany. In such cases, nail studio owners can be convicted of crimes related to human trafficking. That’s possible because of the “Modern Slavery Act,” voted into law by the British Parliament in 2015. The bill will now be read for the third time. As many are of that opinion say "Aye". -"Aye"
Of the contrary "no"... The Ayes have it. The Ayes have it. Teresa May — then Interior Minister - championed the legislation as an effective way to combat human trafficking. Modern Slavery Act was a really good step in the UK to try and tackle the issue of human trafficking. We have seen it bring in further support for
police and kind of made it simpler for them to be able to prosecute victims of trafficking and modern slavery. The National Crime Agency in London - Britain’s lead agency in the fight against organized crime and human trafficking. Robert Richardson leads a special unit dedicated to combatting human trafficking. He coordinates all investigations currently underway nationwide.
A lot of victims of slavery are forced into criminality. And what was preventing those victims coming forward to Law enforcement was fear of being prosecuted themselves. And so, the new legislation includes a provision for those crimes which have been committed forcibly. And so that encourages victims to come forward much more readily than they would have done previously.
Standardized criteria for human trafficking. Centralized registration of victims. With these guidelines in place the scope of the problem is becoming more clear. The numbers are rising, especially among Vietnamese. Nearly 900 are documented each year - girls and boys, half of them under 18. Many of them were apprehended in illegal cannabis farms like this one.
Children working as virtual slaves for the drug cartels. There is a significant number of cannabis farms that are run by Vietnamese organizations, we recognize that often it is, young men, from the age of 15 generally, who are, quote, coerced into tending and growing plants. So that the cannabis farms, the conditions there are really incredibly dangerous. They're pretty horrendous in horrible conditions. So they are often in one room sleeping on the floor where they'll be bought takeaways or food either on a daily basis or a few days at a time. They're surrounded by plants. The smell is quite strong. There's lots of chemicals. They'll be
watering those plants, there being lights on them all the time. So again you know, almost like torturous conditions where they don't know when it's day or night. My name is Han. I’m 15-years old, born in a small village. We were very poor. This video was released by ECPAT in an effort to make the British public aware of what it calls the modern-day slavery forced upon Vietnamese children. One day a man came and said he had work for me abroad and that I could send money back home.
It was like a dream come true. But when we arrived in Great Britain, he brought us into a big apartment in a city. We were told to look after the plants. He said we owed him money and that if we tried to run away, he’d kill us. ECPAT also launched campaigns like these to inform the British press about this growing problem. In the meantime, British authorities have
taken a hard line against human traffickers — in stark contrast to Germany. Currently when we look at modern slavery investigations, there's a total of approximately nineteen hundred investigations. And of those, several hundred will be specifically targeting criminal exploitation, which includes, cannabis farms that are kind of manned by Vietnamese victims of trafficking. German and Polish officials have also uncovered illegal cannabis farms run by Vietnamese... along with the mostly young workers forced to care for the crops.
Drugs. Marijuana and methamphetamines. And smuggling? And smuggling! And it’s the same people? Yes, they’re one and the same. And where does the product end up? Berlin. One of these suspects is Lan’s purported father. He allegedly picks
up smuggled people in Warsaw along with Crystal Meth for sale in the German capital. Whether it’s the sale of drugs or the production of narcotics, these are among the lines of trade plied by the Vietnamese organized crime syndicates. And smuggling serves a purpose here as well — as harsh as it sounds, they are a continuing supply of human resources. The organized criminal gangs bring them in for use in their other spheres of activity. A case of human trafficking? A classic case of human trafficking. The British Embassy in Berlin. January 2020. A workshop sponsored by
the US-based Pacific Link Foundation. Diep Vuong spearheads this international charity. On this day, she is making clear the dimensions of human trafficking of Vietnamese to Europe. British, Belgian and German
investigators are in attendance. Great Britain’s success in combatting the smugglers is a central theme. But Sebastian Laudan of Berlin’s criminal justice agency thinks it’s unwise for countries to compare strategies.
Every nation has different legal definitions of smuggling and human trafficking. That means we have to be very careful. In this context we can’t simply compare the justice systems of other European countries with each other. In 2005, Germany signaled its support for an international law that codified a definition of human trafficking. It was sponsored by the European Council. Kevin Hyland was a chief inspector for Scotland Yard and Britain’s first independent anti-slavery commissioner. Now he’s in charge of monitoring
observance of the European Council’s Human trafficking convention. Every country’s definition should come from the council of Europe’s convention. And I know there are differences technically and differences in some interpretations. But ultimately, the definition
created by the Council of Europe convention and international clearly lays out what a crime is and that’s what a country will be assessed on. Hyland believes Germany hasn’t yet lived up to its commitments. He adds, the European Council report of 2019 clearly highlights the weak points.
There is not a national process for supporting victims. Also, the positive duty to investigate crimes. So, there’s a proactive investigation that should happen. I also think there are areas that are missing, such as an independent rapporteur or commissioner, someone to look at the situation across Germany, and that consistency of monitoring over a period of years. Germany’s lackadaisical response to the problem plays directly into the hands of the human traffickers. In Berlin’s Dong-Xuan Center, Lan was forced to work as a messenger, transporting thousands of Euros for the criminal gangs. Her purported sister worked as a waitress. The
exploitation of Vietnamese minors continues to take place before our very eyes. And yet, Berlin authorities are skeptical as to whether the young victims truly are underage. A large number of the Vietnamese that we take into custody claim that they are under 18. In reality, it’s a different story. In our experience, we’ve come to the conclusion that the large majority of smuggled Vietnamese who say they are minors, aren’t actually underaged. October 2019 on the outskirts of London. These victims were definitely minors, boys and girls. In a smuggling operation gone wrong, 39
people died of asphyxiation in the back of a truck. All were Vietnamese. One of the victims was a 17-year old boy. His friend had just turned 18 when he died. Twelve days before, both of them disappeared from a facility in the Netherlands. They were in Germany before embarking on the journey that
cost them their lives. They lived in this house for a few months. They were brought here after police pulled them out of the back of a truck. The truck was from Germany. And the people found in this truck were loaded into it near Cologne.
Shortly before she died, one of the victims wrote a note to her mother back home. This is somebody dying, and yet there was no blaming the network. No blaming anybody who sold her that ticket. No saying things like, I wished I didn't do this. In the end, it was just. I'm sorry. I'm not making it. So, the smugglers, the traffickers have this deadly weapon of shame? Well, it's the cultural weapon that they wield. Very adeptly. Right?
They keep people in debt bondage. They are able to make sure that people shut up, never tell the neighbors about the treacherous journey that they've been on. Today, Chung lives illegally in Warsaw. A Polish court sentenced Andrej to three years and six months in prison on charges connected to human trafficking. Lan’s fate is unclear. Her purported father was arrested in Berlin on smuggling charges and sentenced to three years in prison. But the term
‘human trafficking’ is nowhere to be found in his court files. The official records for 2019 show that there were only seven cases of human trafficking of Vietnamese in Germany.