One of four students who went missing in March 2023 has escaped a human trafficking operation and returned home safely. Free Tibet’s research partner, Tibet Watch, has been told of the student’s ordeal.
Prior to their disappearance in March, eight students were contacted by a Chinese businessman from Sungchu (Ch: Songpan) County in the Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture. The man promised the students that he would help them escape to India and arrange for them to have well-paid jobs when they arrived at the border areas to earn enough for onward travel, assuring them that they need not worry about money, passports, or safety.
As instructed, the eight students then ran away from their school in Chuchen (Ch: Jinchuan) County to meet with the businessman in Lhasa. At this point, despite assurances from the man that money would not be an issue, he began to ask questions if they had brought enough money with them. This prompted four of the students to grow suspicious of the man and decide to find their own way to India, which eventually led to their detention by Chinese authorities.
Those students that remained with the man were taken to the border with Myanmar, where they were handed over to strangers believed to be members of a criminal organisation. The students were loaded into a truck and driven into Myanmar over multiple days, driving only during the night and resting in the daytime. During the journey they were made to change trucks several times and obtained a number of checkpoint permit documents.
At some point during their journey, on the Myanmar side of the border, the students were separated and taken to different locations. The student who later escaped back to Tibet was taken to a compound in a forest, surrounded by electric fencing and barbed wire, containing a four/five storey building.
The student was initially allowed to rest for a couple of days and was given food. However, after this, the strangers demanded that the student pay them over 1,000,000RMB (roughly £113,830). When they discovered that the student did not have enough money they gave them two options: either work off the debt, or ask his parents to pay.
The student was allowed to contact their family over the phone to ask for the money. The family were told that a criminal organisation had bought their child from a human trafficking group, and that to get them back would cost 3,000,000RMB (roughly £341,430). The criminal organisation claimed that, since they had bought the child rather than kidnapping or abducting them, they were legal owners and not committing any criminal act.
The family agreed to pay this price to rescue their child but also contacted the police for assistance. The family have stated that they found the police uncooperative; Tawu County police told the family that, since the matter was concerning foreign human trafficking operations, it was out of their jurisdiction and refused to offer any help.
The family transferred over the money, however the criminal organisation then demanded more to cover additional expenses of food, travel, and permits. While the family initially refused to pay this amount, as they had already given so much, they were left with no choice but to do so.
Seeking guidance, and fearing for the safety of their child, the family asked a Buddhist Lama for advice. The Lama prophesied that the child should escape as soon as possible, otherwise it would become impossible to do so. Still trapped in the compound in Myanmar, the family were able to relay this message to the child, who then took the opportunity under the cover of night to jump from the second storey of the building and flee into the forest.
The child was able to reach a village near the Myanmar border, where they called their family to come and rescue them. Three members of the family entered Myanmar and were able to safely bring the child home.
Now back in safe hands, the student shared their harrowing experience. They said that there were many more young people just like them in the compound. Some young adults were recruited into the trafficking gangs through brutal tests of torture and murder, other people were forced to contact their friends to lure them into being trafficked. They also claimed that those who were not able to accomplish this task were tortured and sold on, or had their organs harvested.
The student who has been returned home is currently being kept in police custody at Tawu County police station. As they were separated in Myanmar, the safety, wellbeing and whereabouts of the other three students who are still missing is unknown. We will report any further updates as they are received.
Information supplied by Tibet Watch.