Vietnamese Migrants’ Earnings Build Mansions Back Home

30 October, 2019

Vietnam's "Billionaire Village" does not sound like a place people would want to leave. However, at least three of the 39 victims found in the back of a truck in Britain last week were from there. They left to seek work and good pay.

A billion Vietnamese dong is worth about $43,000 U.S. dollars. That amount of money can buy a lot in rural Vietnam.

Many migrants from Vietnam send their earnings home to family. In the northern-central Vietnamese town of Do Thanh, migrant money has built some huge and beautiful homes for relatives living there.

"Seventy to 80 percent of the villas here have been built with remittances," said Nguyen Van Ha. He is chairman of the rural rice-farming community in Nghe An province.

"If you work in Vietnam earning dong, it would take a long time to build a big house like this," Ha said, pointing to the large houses near the town government building.

In Do Thanh, remittance money sent to Roman Catholic families even paid for a large, costly church.

Many of the other victims found in the truck are believed to have come from outside the town, in the surrounding area of Yen Thanh. Nineteen-year-old Bui Thi Nhung is believed to be among the dead. She left messages on social media documenting her trip through Europe in the days before she got in the truck.

The vehicle was found near London, a top city for Vietnamese migrants. The incident has brought greater attention to the dangers of trafficking people from Asia, Africa and the Middle East to the West.

Vietnamese Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Quoc Cuong told Reuters on Tuesday that the nationality of the victims had not been officially been confirmed. He said Vietnam and Britain were "trying to speed up identification of the bodies."

Newly-built houses are seen at Do Thanh commune, in Nghe An province, Vietnam October 29, 2019. Picture taken October 29, 2019. (REUTERS/Kham)
Newly-built houses are seen at Do Thanh commune, in Nghe An province, Vietnam October 29, 2019. Picture taken October 29, 2019. (REUTERS/Kham)

Remittances rise

In Vietnam, a lack of jobs, environmental disasters and government pressure on Catholics are pushing people to leave.

Vietnamese migrants pay thousands of dollars to dangerous trafficking operations in order to travel to Europe. The migrants believe the money they can earn once they are there makes the trip worth the risk.

Ha, the chairman of Do Thanh, said many people from the area are living in Britain. But he added, "We have no idea what they do there to earn all this money to send back home."

The World Bank says overseas workers sent nearly $16 billion in remittances to Vietnam in 2018. That is more than two times the Southeast Asian country's trade surplus for the same period. The World Bank examination showed Vietnamese remittances had risen 130 percent over the last 10 years.

Drugs and nails

About 70 percent of Vietnamese trafficking cases in Britain between 2009 and 2016 were related to work in the illegal cannabis trade or in beauty services, Britain said last year.

Many migrants do find find legal work in Europe and the United States. They also find work closer to home in places like Japan, Taiwan and Laos.

Bui Van Diep is a metal worker. He told Reuters, "I didn't have enough money to go abroad so I went to Saigon (Ho Chi Min City) instead."

He lives in a small, home in Do Thanh. His cousin, Bui Chung, lives in a large, costly villa next door.

Bui Chung left Do Thanh for Britain in 2007. When he returned home, he built his house and started a steel trading business.

"I went from Vietnam to France legally, but from France to the UK illegally inside a container truck," said Chung. "I chose to go to the UK because the salary is very good and so many people from Do Thanh already lived there."

Chung worked in a cannabis farm in Britain. He also worked at a Vietnamese-run nail salon, where he said he earned around $640 a week.

"The Vietnamese community living there help newcomers to find jobs," Chung said. "That's why many people around here are willing to even sell their land to raise enough money to go."

Now, he believes he made a huge mistake returning home.

"I've lost a lot of money doing business here. People don't trust each other," Chung said. "I might go back to the UK."

I'm Ashley Thompson.

Reuters News Agency's James Pearson reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted his report for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

villa –n. a large house or estate that is usually located in the country

remittance –n. an amount of money that is sent as a payment for something

church –n. a building that is used for Christian religious services

average –n. a level that is typical of a group, class, or series : a middle point between extremes

abroad –n. in or to a foreign country

cannabis–n. a drug (such as marijuana or hashish) that comes from the hemp plant and is smoked illegally

nail salon –n. a business where beauty services are offered