I have been visiting prisoners at the Immigrant Detention Centre with my church for the past few weeks (for more details, see this page). I am always curious about the prisoners’ stories: how did they end up in Thailand, without paperwork? While I have caught bits and pieces of various stories, it is difficult to get a full picture. Some prisoners do not speak English or Thai, and even for those that do, the sheer volume during visiting hour makes it difficult to have an in-depth conversation. Last week, however, one of the Ethiopian girls that we have been visiting gave us a letter sharing her story. I’d like to repeat it here. Let’s call her ‘Mary.’
Mary is a teenager, and was living in Ethiopia with her family when she received a job offer from a man in Kuwait. He said that he was looking for a babysitter. Mary did not want to take the job, but her father put a great deal of pressure on her, and eventually, she consented. When she arrived in Kuwait, her passport, money, and other documents were taken from her, and she was brought to a house full of other women. It soon became apparent that the “babysitting” job was actually forced prostitution. The women were not allowed to leave the house, and were expected to service the paying customers who visited the house. There was no way for the women to escape. After some time, Mary’s pimp selected three of the girls to accompany him on a trip to Thailand (editor’s note: her letter was not clear, but he was likely planning to sell them in Thailand) – Mary was one of them. After they arrived in Bangkok, her pimp was momentarily distracted while having a conversation with a client. Mary saw her opportunity, and escaped. She immediately went to a police station and shared her story. Because she had no documentation, she was taken to the Immigrant Detention Centre, where she has remained for the past few months.
In a strange way, prison turned out to be a place of safety for Mary. Elizabeth, my preacher friend from my previous prison post, took her under her wing, and acted like a surrogate mother to her. Because of Elizabeth’s influence, Mary has become a Christian, which has given her new hope. The next piece of her story is uncertain. The Ethiopian embassy has provided her with new documents, and all she needs is a plane ticket. She asked my church to provide one for her. We are currently raising money, and I’m sure that the funds will come in. My greater concern is what will happen to her after she arrives in Ethiopia. She says that she has supportive contacts there. I hope and pray that she doesn’t become a victim of trafficking a second time.