All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don't. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity.

Robert Kennedy

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A lesson in human trafficking.

Yes, it's time for some education. Tomorrow kicks off our second annual Anti-Human Trafficking festival here in Cahul. It will be a week long series of events to kick off a 10 month awareness campaign funded by the U.S. Embassy. So, I will do my part by conveying some facts you may or may not know. I know...some of you don't want to think about it or feel like reading technical jargon, but please, do me a favor and read through this (I'll keep it succinct) and understand this problem because I have news for you...it's happening in the U.S. too...
So when you hear the phrase 'human trafficking' I'm sure your mind goes to the movie 'Taken' or that type of scenario with rich men from the Middle East kidnapping girls against their will, drugging them beyond comprehension and engaging visiting rich men to have sex with them. Yes, that is one scenario, but unfortunately, it is one of many.

How - Recruitment. There is a program called "Work and Travel" in which they award students here the chance to travel to the U.S. and live and work there for 3 months during the summer. It is pretty competitive so not everyone is accepted. Many 'copycat' programs have crept up throughout the years that pose as legitimate work and travel opportunities but are really recruitment for trafficking. It is not just 'work and travel' but just employment opportunities abroad in general are the biggest form of recruitment. Many transactions take place through social media, online or on the phone with no real 'legitimate' proof of employment.

Where - From 2005-2010 here were the locations for the biggest percentages of trafficking victims obtained from European countries:

  • Turkey - 29%
  • Russia - 28%
  • Moldova - 12%
  • Cyprus - 5%
  • United Arab Emirates - 4%
  • Israel - 4%
  • Romania - 4%
  • Lituania - 3%
  • Czech Republic - 3%
  • Kosovo - 2%
  • Austria - 2%
  • Spain - 2%
  • Ukraine - 1%
  • Other (Italy, Jordan, Pakistan, China, etc.) - 1%
What - So I say there are other types besides sex trafficking. Here are the major categories for human trafficking:
  • Sexual Exploitation 
  • Forced Labor
  • Begging
  • Sexual and Labor Exploitation
  • Organ Transplant
  • Criminal Activities

How do they maintain control over these victims? Physical violence isn't as common as it tends to attract the local authorities. Most of it is documentation. The trafficker will keep the victim's documentation and hold it for 'ransom' until the victim 'works off the cost' and can then reclaim their documentation to leave.

Who - The average age is 18-25. The average age for exploited child labor is 14-17. One of the most disturbing facts I have learned is that most times, victims are not aware they are victims. They are just led to believe that this is 'how it is' living and working abroad so why would they choose to go home. It's not going to be better there. At least 'here' they are making money, right?

So this is just a brief overview of the goings on. We are trying to bring awareness so that kids can recognize the signs and be aware of what is going on. Education is the best form of prevention. 

I have actually seen this happen in person. It wasn't as extreme of a case as many but it was alarming to see it on a personal level. I met a guy in my town. He was 19 years old. He told me he received an opportunity to work in Russia for 3 months and he would make a lot of money and would return when the summer was over. I gave him all of this information and he assured me that it was all legitimate. Months later, in chatting with him online, I asked about his work. He informed me that he worked daily (no days off) from 6am to midnight. He shared a one-room apartment with 7 other boys his age. They had no days off. They had to pay their own rent and buy their own food. The money they were given was 1/3 of what he had been promised and it barely covered his rent and food, therefore he could not afford to save anything, including to buy a ticket to come home. His 'bosses' were 'holding' his documentation for safekeeping and he had to pay them a 'processing' fee to regain his papers. After being injured on the job, he received minimal medical care and was forced back to work even though he had not completely healed. After many long conversations, he understood that this was not normal. His sister wound up wiring him enough money to pay his rent for the month, to pay for his documentation, his ticket home and enough to keep his roommates from reporting that he was leaving. Upon obtaining his documentation, he packed his bag and got on the next bus back to Moldova. He had no money, just his ticket. As awful as this all sounds, he is very lucky to have been able to escape as quickly and as relatively unharmed as he was. And to this day, he does not believe he was a victim.
Europe and Asia are crazy, right? Bad news...it happens in the U.S. too. I won't bore you with more statistics but it does happen. 
So when you ask me what I've been doing here...this is it. I've been getting an 'in your face' education about this practice and trying to educate people about how this is not normal and they are worth more than this. But it's not just my fight, it's world wide and it's horrifying. Keep educated, educate your children, educate your friends. No one is immune from the dangers. 
Off my soapbox.

Some resources for domestic trafficking:
http://www.polarisproject.org/
http://www.safehorizon.org/index.php
http://www.safehorizon.org/index.php

International Resources:
http://www.tinyhandsinternational.org/human-trafficking
http://lastradainternational.org/
http://www.iom.int/cms/en/sites/iom/home.html

The above statistics were provided by "New Face of Human Trafficking" by Vlademir Ubeivolc and Veniamin Sazonov associated with The Beginning of Life organization in Chisinau, Moldova.
ISBN 978-9975-4359-2-5
http://www.bol.md/?q=node/59 

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