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Due to “extenuating circumstances in transitioning states, and information that is incomplete, unclear, contradictory or difficult to corroborate,” Iraq, along with eight other prominent nations, which include Liberia, Somalia, Haiti, Brunei, The Bahamas, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Turkmenistan have not been included at all. However, each of these nations “merit special mention because there are indications of trafficking in each of these countries.”
Stopping the Traffic
Interestingly, the US is not mentioned in any of the tiers. Perkins attributed this to the State Department’s purpose of highlighting what is happening in other countries, while another department, the US Department of Justice, puts out an annual report to assess internal issues.
“The US tends to be much more out there in terms of going to other countries and saying, ‘This is what you should do,’ whereas other countries don’t take that approach,” explained Perkins. Other countries and organizations that have shown great interest in human trafficking include Sweden, the United Kingdom, most of the Western European countries, The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (primarily composed of European states, but also includes countries from Central Asia and North America), and the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (UNIAP), which includes Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam and brings together 13 UN agencies and eight international NGOs.
The UNIAP, said Perkins, is “kind of a pioneer project for the UN. There is no other region with this kind of initiative. It’s purely for high-level governmental officials who get together several times a year to really mobilize their governmental forces on this issue.”
Sweden, for example, is targeting brothel owners, traffickers, pimps, and customers instead of targeting prostitutes. The result? People are scared of prosecution and since this program was enacted, numbers regarding known trafficking in Sweden is down.
Who are the trafficked?
“Anybody can be trafficked,” regardless of gender or age, said Gabriela Villareal, an anti-trafficking program coordinator for Safe Horizon, a New York-based NGO that aids trafficking survivors. The desire for economic upward mobility and the promise of greater earning power in a more economically prosperous location are typical traits of those trafficked.
The Filipinas trafficked to Japan are a good example. Poor young girls from the countryside who see the money earned in Japan as a way to better their quality of life, they were easy prey for traffickers. “Here in New York, the majority of the victims that I have seen come through Safe Horizon, have been from Central America, South America, and the Caribbean,” said Villareal, which are all poorer countries.
Villareal further testifies that 51 percent of the victims aided by Safe Horizon have been victims of labor exploitation. This statistic has stayed consistently above the 50 percent mark. “There have been a really wide variety of cases identified with human trafficking exploitation in the area,” claimed Villareal. “For example, there is the case of indentured servitude and debt bondage out in Long Island; there was a family trafficking ring that operated between Mexico and the US for the exploitation of women for commercial sex. [There’s also a] UN diplomat who was forcing somebody into indentured servitude. It’s quite a wide range.”
Perkins credits the US government’s shift in focus to Ambassador Miller, who over his course as ambassador-at-large, came to see human trafficking for labor exploitation as a much bigger issue. The focus on trafficking has grown tremendously since 2002.
Who are the traffickers?
“Like the victims, the traffickers can be anybody,” said Villareal. “Traffickers can be those least expected such as diplomats who work for the UN or international organizations, intimate partners, employment agencies, as well as family members, or friends and acquaintances.” Specifically, in relation to indentured servitude, the traffickers “can also come in the form of highly educated professionals that are contributing members of society that you wouldn’t necessarily assume to be violating someone’s human rights.”
In January 2001, the Washington Post reported on a Zambian UN official charged with paying a man, also from Zambia, $160 dollars a month to clean his 11-room Westchester home and care for his autistic son. When asked for a raise and permission to work a part-time job, the official told the man that immigration officials would deport him. According to the Post story, the diplomat’s co-workers showed genuine surprise over the allegations and said that he was a “perfect gentleman.”