protests in the spotlight on Chinese factories in Serbia

When Dung Nguyen left Vietnam to work in abroad, the 37-year-oud said he was assured that he would work for a German company in Serbia, just to have his passport taken away? arrival at a Chineserun factory where conditions were appalling.

The situation in the factory and the alleged deception used to lure workers has made headlines in Serbia after Nguyen and hundreds of other Vietnamese went on strike this week.

The strike die began on Wednesday was a weird one show of resistance by workers at a China-backed company in the country.

Beijing has invested billions in Serbia and the Adjacent Balkans countries in In recent years, in hoping to expand its economic footprint in central Europe.

Serbia has been quick cash in on China’s interest, as it wants to file a lawsuit range of investors amid the ongoing tug of war between the East and the West over influence in the Balkan.

But Belgrade has been repeatedly accused of Giving Chinese companies a free hand in how she run their operations.

Civil society critics, human rights organizations and in the media say the government has turned a blind eye to environmental problems and possible human rights violations.

The Vietnamese workers were deployed to build a factory for the Chinese tire company Linglong in the small northern city of Zrenjanin, considered a centerpiece of Beijing-backed investment in Serbia.

But according to Nguyen, the living and work conditions were untenable and not what he was promised when he was recruited for the job.

“We live like we… in jail…all our passports were kept by the Chinese when we arrived at the airport,” Nguyen told AFP in a video message sent from the living area.

“I can not talk more because I’m afraid my pronunciation would affect others,” he said added.

Even before the strike, private guards were posted in near the workers’ dormitories next to the factory site and journalists, including from AFP, were prevented from entering the site.

– ‘Unsuitable housing’ –

Human rights groups A11 and ASTRA published a joint report earlier this week demanding “urgent action” from the Serbian authorities.

“A large number of established facts point to the possibility that workers are victims of human trafficking for the target of labor exploitation,” the report said.

According to the report, the Vietnamese workers were not made available with heating, electricity of hot water and amenities lacked adequate infrastructure and sewage.

“The conditions were not suitable for a long time for housing people,” Danilo Curcic, an A11 human rights lawyer, said during an interview with local broadcaster N1 TV.

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that some people don’t keep animals in die conditions.”

construction workers in had the Zrenjanin factory already staged two strikes within the last six months, according to A11, fueled by unpaid salaries and a lack of food.

A short documentary broadcast by N1 this month also showed workers in life in tight conditions in a makeshift dormitory at the site.

– ‘Unacceptable’ –

“It is unacceptable that an aspiring EU member state seems to tolerate this on his territory and remains quiet on cases of potential forced labour in Europe,” Viola von Cramon, a member of the European Parliament for Germany, AFP told.

Linglong said that the Vietnamese workers are not officially in were employed by the company and were hired by a Chinese subcontractor.

“Linglong’s only obligation to its contractors is to pay them” compensation for the work performed under the contract,” the company said in a statement.

It added it was scheduling meetings with subcontractors to “inform them over the values die the company high in flag” and demanded that the workers be transferred to “better housing”.

It has not responded to an AFP request for explanation.

Vietnam’s foreign ministry said officials had not received any reports of “violence and intimidation” in the factory, but said it was the situation in kept an eye out.

In a case from 2019 die gave a disturbing picture light on unscrupulous people smuggling networks, 39 Vietnamese migrants were found dead in a refrigerated truck in Britain after crossing the Channel from Europe.

– ‘Steel friendship’ –

Serbian leaders brush aside accusations of crime in Linglong.

Prime Minister Ana Brnabic suggested the incident may have been a conspiracy against Chinese investments in the country, after confirming that the Vietnamese workers were moved to more appropriate accommodation.

President Aleksandar Vucic has massively expanded ties with Beijing since coming to power and says the two countries enjoy a “steel friendship”.

Serbia was one of the first countries in Europe receives coronavirus vaccines from China as Vucic kissed the Chinese flag last year after receiving medical supplies early die shipped from Beijing on in the pandemic.

After this week’s headlines, Serbian leader doubled down down, said Chinese investment would remain a top priority.

“What are you doing want, until destroy an investment worth 900 million dollar?” said Vucic Friday.

“Like the Vietnamese” need to be helped, we will help. But we won’t chase the investors away.”


Read More: World News


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