Half hundred Vietnamese «creatively» smuggled into Estonia

Nils Niitra
, reporter
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Photo: Police

Prosecutor confirms hunt after human traffickers caught last week near border with 11 Vietnamese actually begun last November when 15 Vietnamese got smuggled into Estonia and two gang members arrested. 

«Further investigations showed it was not random attempts but a well greased system with roles carefully appointed,» said Southern District prosecutor Aro Siinmaa. «Certain individuals are in constant readiness to react to supply of fresh goods.» He underlined the people were treated as «goods».

Thus the police is currently investigating into four human trafficking incidents by the same grouping eh same smuggling, with a total of half hundred Vietnamese smuggled into Estonia since October. In two of these cases, the crooks have managed to send the Vietnamese on through Estonia to elsewhere.  

Where exactly the Vietnamese were gotten across the border, Mr Siinmaa would not tell. «They crossed the border illegally at a location not prescribed for that and were promptly met by people tasked to load them info vehicles and exit the border zone as fast as possible,» he described. As by-product, Ford Mondeo trunk was seen to hold a whopping 11 Vietnamese.

From there, the criminals were planning to load the Vietnamese onto a trailer of a truck and take them to Poland. The refrigerator-trailer was largely filled with firewood, the Vietnamese would have had to fit in hiding place between the wood. «The vehicle was adjusted to hide them, not for their,» added Mr Siinmaa. «Their health would surely have been damaged during a trip like that.»

To take the Vietnamese from border to inland, an escort car was provided separately; likewise, the path of the truck to Poland was to be protected by escort vehicles.

None of the smugglers arrested was armed, neither did they physically resist. Currently, six are suspected in membership of a criminal organisation, human trafficking as well as illegal transport of aliens over border line. Mr Siinmaa said they do not know how large the circle of suspects may prove to be.

Of Ida-Viru County background, the gang is a link in international human trafficking chain in its turn forming a stand-alone criminal organisation on Estonian territory. «The organisation is stable and has been involved in this activity for quite a while,» added Mr Siinmaa.

Slave labour in Russia

From Vietnam to Russia, the 11 travelled with visas and legally, but once their they had to work hard for a couple of months to pay the debts that usually are owed to traffickers – in-between slave labour in Russia is widespread.

As a rule, the Vietnamese have managed to make a downpayment on the «full package» costing $13,000–20,000. Lion’s share remains to be paid by work in target country. As for the Estonian local traffickers, for taking one Vietnamese across the border they get €3,000. After all kinds of criminal costs get deducted, they will have some €1,000 per immigrant.  

Mr Siinmaa said the cheating, luring and making use of the Vietnamese begins in native Vietnam where certain individuals start making proposals, giving hints and presenting offers.

«They talk about the option to reach nations where one earns awfully much and living conditions are superb,» he said. «Once in Russia, there is a whole system and people who for a time offer them an apartment and a job which is already a far cry from what the Vietnamese imagined at home. They will have to work in very narrow and unsanitary conditions until next people show up who promise to take them to Europe for the good life.» While in Russia, it is forbidden for the Vietnamese to move about on their own.

Mr Siinmaa added that the Vietnamese may not know that crimes are committed to transport them, and borders crossed illegally. «Even with this criminal case, the evidence currently says the Vietnamese rather were ignorant that there were countries along the way to be entered illegally. Often, they imagine they have paid for a totally legal and correct journey to Europe,» explained the prosecutor.

Assets pawned

Mr Siinmaa said each such victim of human trafficking has his own story to tell. «Often, these tales are very tragic and rather desperate,» he said. «For the initial downpayment, they often pawn their family’s assets or sell personal assets in hopes to earn it back someday. The payments will be due along the way and then the parents and family will try and come up with it.» Nevertheless, the illegal migrants on their journey will find themselves in a situation where they can no longer decide about place to live, job or wage conditions. They have to do what they are told.

The international human trafficking chain has no central management; rather, it is cooperation between groupings in various countries. One gets the «goods» thru their country and passes it on to crooks in another country who take the people on from there.  

The six people arrested feature those with punishment register and others without. «No clear cut pattern in the background,» added the prosecutor. «Anyway, they have gotten together at some point and decided to commit such crimes in an organised way.»

Mr Siinmaa said people are taken across the border in various ways. Often, the escort person from Russia enters Estonia with them. Another option is sending them in from Russia to be met in Estonia by the next link in the chain. «Carrying them across, they are very creative and will definitely not repeat the same patterns,» said Mr Siinmaa.

Media in Estonia and other nations has featured plenty of stories about FSB role in directing immigration into Finland or other lands. Border guard says cooperation to catch those crossing the border has essentially ceased. Mr Siinmaa does not doubt Estonia has other gangs involved in human trafficking. «We will not run out of work any time soon,» he said.