Amid the rice paddies and villages of central Vietnam, residents have a name for the shadowy network used to smuggle their loved ones to Europe.
Translated to English, it’s called “the line,” as in a factory production line.
This illicit system of moving people across borders has become so common that everyone in the hamlet of Do Thanh in Nghe An province seems to know someone who has made the journey.
“I sent my three sons,” said Phan Van Thuong, a wiry 64-year-old grandfather with a crucifix tattooed on his chest. Two of them have already come back, he said, after they were arrested and deported from Britain.
“In handcuffs,” he added with a broad smile.
Phan sits in his living room under a large statue of the Virgin Mary wrapped in plastic, pouring shots of rice wine for visitors into tiny glasses. The room has enormous raised ceilings, and on the walls hang several large posters depicting scenes from the New Testament and huge wedding portraits of his children.
Foreign remittances from his sons, including a third who still lives in Germany, helped pay for the construction of his three-story home. Throughout the neighborhood there are many similar two-and-three story houses, apparently built within the last decade. Some appear to sit next to the owners’ original homes: single-story brick and concrete huts now crumbling and used as barns.
From the balcony, Phan points out at the surrounding rice paddies. Many of them are abandoned.
Farmers can’t make enough money growing rice here any more, he said.
Instead, young people use “the line” to make the long, dangerous and expensive journey to Europe in hopes of a better life.
Point of origin
Mimi Vu, an activist based in Ho Chi Minh City who works on issues related to human trafficking and migration, said that for many young Vietnamese, the