New Training Programs Will Help Fight Trafficking in Persons

By Wendy Lubetkin
USINFO Special Correspondent

Geneva - A unique new tool designed to fight trafficking in persons around the world is being officially launched this week by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the U.S. Department of State.

The new package of training programs aimed at immigration and law enforcement officials, legislators and nongovernmental organizations represents a “milestone in establishing a comprehensive global counter-trafficking strategy,” said IOM spokesperson Jean-Philippe Chauzy.  The training modules were developed by IOM, with funding from the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, and based on extensive experience in the field and feedback from participants in IOM pilot programs in Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America.

“The people of the United States view human trafficking as an abhorrent crime, and we are committed to combating and preventing it both at home and abroad,” Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Ellen Sauerbrey said at a joint press conference with IOM and other officials in Geneva November 28. “This is 21st century slavery.”

The United States is a “world leader in the fight against trafficking in persons,” having contributed over $375 million over the past five years for counter-trafficking projects around the globe, she added.  “The Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration has chosen IOM as our primary implementing partner for anti-trafficking programs because of IOM’s extensive expertise in the field.”

Richard Danziger, Head of IOM’s Counter-Trafficking Division, explained that one of the most basic challenges is training people to recognize trafficking victims. Confusion between smuggling, illegal immigration and trafficking persists.  “Today, despite all the talk about trafficking, trafficked children are still being deported to their home countries, or even transit countries.  Victims, slaves, are still being treated as criminals.”

The first aim of IOM’s new “Counter-Trafficking Training Modules” is to counter misinformation about trafficking in persons.  The program seeks to debunk common myths, such as the idea that all victims of trafficking are women and children, or that only uneducated, poor people are trafficked. 

IOM also strove to develop a methodology that would be international but flexible enough to be customized for specific local situations, Danziger said.   “While trafficking is a global problem, trafficking is not the same in Afghanistan, as it is in Colombia or in Portugal.”

To ensure this global approach, IOM drew on feedback from successful pilot programs in the Netherlands Antilles, Jamaica, South Africa, Indonesia, Cambodia, Suriname and the Bahamas.  To date, some 700 people in 25 countries have been trained to use the modules.

Each module is designed as a stand-alone two-day training program.  The first day might begin with a session on the basic concepts of trafficking in persons, including how to identify victims. Participants learn about the different ways trafficking works and the methods traffickers use to control their victims through debt bondage, isolation, the removal of ID or travel documents, or the use of violence and the threat of reprisals against family members.

Later, participants move on to identifying potential problems in their own countries and working in teams to prioritize potential initial strategies.  A key focus is on building partnerships and developing cooperative networks between government, law enforcement and civil society.  “In many countries, police, border guards, do not work with civil society - there is no trust between those two institutions. These modules are intended to address just those issues,” Danziger said.

“The counter-trafficking modules draw on IOM’s extensive experience in this field to develop a how-to approach for policy makers, service providers and others,” said Kelly Ryan, deputy assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration. “Their focus is comprehensive, providing information and instructions on the essential elements of an effective national strategy to combat trafficking, such as information campaigns, return and reintegration of victims, cooperation and networking, special needs of children, and direct assistance among other topics.”

Among the pilot countries that have been using the modules now for several years, is the Bahamas.  “Whenever we recruit new immigration officers, we use part of the module for their training,” said Vernon Burrows, director of the Immigration Department of the Bahamas.

As an example, Burrows noted that it is essential to sensitize immigration officials “to ask the right questions” when they encounter unaccompanied minors or children traveling with adults who are not their parents.  “When you ask these questions, you may get answers where they reveal themselves,” he explained.

Awareness of the problem of trafficking in persons has grown dramatically in recent years, Danziger said, and basic awareness is a big step toward addressing the issue.  One simple example of progress, he noted, is the fact that many countries now place certain conditions on visas for children who are not traveling with their parents. “I think we will find soon that most if not all countries are doing more to protect unaccompanied minors.”

The full text of a press release on the new training modules is available on the IOM Web site.

For more information on U.S. policy, see Human Trafficking.