Saturday, June 20, 2009
A large number of products are being illegally brought into Vietnam across the border with Cambodia by hundreds of locals who earn their living as porters for local smugglers.
The Go Market in Cambodia’s Ta Keo Province has for long been famous for its abundant supply of both new and used products from Thailand and China.
Just hundreds meters across the border with An Giang Province’s Chau Doc Town, the market hosts many electronics, cosmetics, liquor, cigarette, motor and bicycle stores.
It has become a common shopping center for many customers in the Mekong Delta who prefer the low prices of untaxed and/or used products, as well as for smugglers who buy the products to resell in the domestic market.
To meet the high demand for the smuggled goods, many “carrier” rings have been set up to carry the purchases across the border, and the buyers hire locals as porters.
Most of the porters are poor locals from Vinh Nguon Commune in An Giang Province’s Chau Doc Town who have small farm plots or possess no skills for other work besides farming, one of them said.
“A porter has to be a Vietnamese who knows the roads in Vietnam thoroughly to avoid being caught by local authorities,” he added.
This Thanh Nien reporter, who posed as a buyer, was offered porter services by a woman at a parking place near the border.
A man, known only as T., appeared shortly after the woman called him to act as a guide and coolie for the shopping expedition.
At the Go Market, a group of porters arrived at a store which remained closed as if it was not operating. However, they came out just minutes later with full loads on their shoulders and began the trip across the border to Vietnam.
T. said the store was owned by a Cambodian man known as a tycoon at the market, adding that the man even owns a gun to protect his business.
“For a porter, earning money is as easy as a sightseeing tour but also as risky and illegal as robbery,” said one of T.’s peers.
A porter is paid between VND15,000 (US$0.84) and VND20,000 ($1.12) per trip to carry goods across the border for a distance of around two kilometers. They make dozens of trips a day.
“We have to run as fast as we can to protect the goods and also avoid being caught after being spotted by anti-smuggling forces,” he said, adding that most of them run back across the border into Cambodia to avoid being caught.
The porters at Go Market often tell a story about a female porter who had to become a concubine of a smuggler after she could not pay back debts piled up after her load was seized by anti-smuggling forces.
A 21-year-old porter from the commune, known only as H., said he had to quit school several years ago to earn money for his sick father’s treatment.
The buyers had to pay 10 percent of the price of the products they helped carry cross the border, H. said. However, this money was collected by the one who hired them to work and he was only paid around VND300,000 ($17) a day.
He said the illegal work would not last for long and he will work there until he can earn enough money to learn skills for another job.
Reported by Tien Trinh