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U.S. Focusing on Preventing Human Trafficking

U.S. Focusing on Preventing Human Trafficking, Protecting Victims

Ellen Sauerbrey, Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration
Press Roundtable at the U.S. Mission to the European Union Brussels, Belgium
June 1, 2006


Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey: The concept of the report is really meant to be an effort to encourage countries to improve on their anti-trafficking efforts. And by putting out a report that talks about countries' areas of strength and weakness and where they're making progress, we hope that it's a constructive effort to increase interest in the issue, to make it very clear that the U.S. has a real commitment and great concerns about addressing the issue and to encourage countries, as I said, to improve their laws.

In my previous post I was the ambassador to the United Nations for women's issues, and I can tell you that virtually any country that I visited, I always made a point of meeting with the Ministry of Justice or whatever the proper ministry was that worked on trafficking just to convey strongly the message from the U.S. that this is an issue that we really care about, and we recognize is a global issue involving countries all over the world, either as host countries or transit countries or countries of destination, and we fully recognize that we, that the United States, is not immune in any way from the trafficking issue. We don't know the correct number no country really does because it's an underground crime but something in the range of 15,000 to 17,000 people annually, we believe, are trafficked into the United States.

It is one of the worst abuses of human rights, it is truly modern-day slavery, and it's something that we have really over the last five to six years, worked very hard within our own country to improve our own laws, for prosecution of traffickers, and prevention by education, and protecting the victims of trafficking. We have 10 federal agencies in the United States that are working on anti-trafficking campaigns, and our own criminal prosecutions have increased dramatically in the last five years as we created more public awareness, but there's a lot more that needs to be done in the United States just as in virtually every country in the world.

The U.S. government provided over $95 million in anti-trafficking funding last year, and that went to a hundred different countries. We had 266 anti-trafficking programs. I've had the opportunity again, in my own travels -- to participate in a number of workshops, bringing NGOs and government officials together, and working on and developing anti-trafficking programs.

Question: And the report from these 108 countries, what does it look like compared to previous years?

Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey: In honesty I can't tell you because I haven't seen the report. It's really never made public even within the Department, until the report is issued. So I really can't give you any comments about specific countries, in terms of what the report will look like.

Question: In the invitation [to the media roundtable] it was also saying that you would talk a little bit about something specific to European, Eastern European countries could you say more about that?

DAS Ryan: Well we were going, if it made sense, to talk about some of our activities in Eastern Europe. The Bureau we work in is called Population, Refugees, and Migration, and it's actually one of the first bureaus in the Department of State to work on anti-trafficking activities. Last year, in 2005, we committed eight million dollars to counter-trafficking activities. The total number of U.S. funding, by the way, is 95 million for 2005.

But we've done a number of things. In 2004 we sponsored a conference in Warsaw, which had the aim of building regional partnerships to fight trafficking in persons. And I have to tell you, I think it was pretty groundbreaking. There were relationships built amongst central European countries, between officials and persons working on counter-trafficking activity that simply had not existed before. We did this in concert with our implementing partner, IOM, the International Organization for Migration, who is the chief recipient of our monies to promote counter-trafficking activities. We've also engaged with the field missions in IOM in the Slovak Republic, in the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania, and Belarus, and we also had very active participation from the government of Poland. And so, these are some of the things that we've been doing to help the victims of trafficking.

I visited the shelter that we're funding in Warsaw, and it's an amazing shelter. I've visited shelters all over the world, in Asia, in the Caribbean, in Central America and in Warsaw, and it's really first-class, first-rate. And there's great cooperation there amongst NGOs, IOM, and the government of Poland.

We've also done something that I'm quite proud of, which is a project working with our ambassador to the Holy See, and we came up, with IOM, some counter-trafficking training activities for religious personnel. It started in Rome but then we brought the project to nuns in Romania. And this project helps to explain to religious groups the phenomena of trafficking, we talk to them about what's happening, and how to help persons in that circumstance. And not only the spiritual side which obviously they know -- we don't need to tell them about that -- but how to connect them with law enforcement to help them as victims.

And so we have actually used that model around the world and we have brought it to Asia, and to the Dominican Republic, and we've done it in other religions as well. We've held workshops with Imams in Indonesia, and we're looking at working it with monks in Cambodia and Vietnam. So we think that this is really valuable to bring in the faith-based organizations, religious societies, to help in counter-trafficking.

The primary focus of the Bureau we work in is education to avoid trafficking, and then assistance to victims of trafficking. There are other parts of the State Department and the U.S. government that work on the prosecution side, the law enforcement side. Our aim is to help protect the victims of trafficking.

We also do something that has interested Europeans governmental colleagues, which is under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 -- that was our first federal law about trafficking -- there was a reauthorization, and it permits us to bring in the family members of the trafficking victims. And it seems sort of an unusual visa benefit for Congress to put into effect, but it's been enormously helpful in very serious cases where the trafficking victims are terrified to testify because they know their children are at home, still subject to abuse and harm by the traffickers.

So in one of the cases I worked on with my colleagues of DOJ [Department of Justice], one of the harshest cases I've every seen involving Mexican women. The five women were absolutely terrified to participate in the trafficking prosecution, and it was their husbands who trafficked them, and the trafficking was exceptionally cruel, because their children had been placed with their husbands' families. So we worked with the government of Mexico, and got them to give legal custodianship to the mothers' side of the family. Then our Bureau paid for the children to be reunited with their families with an immigration visa in the United States. That, of course, immediately increased their comfort level. They testified in the trials and the traffickers were given 50 years without possibility of parole. So it had a really concrete effect on our opportunity to go after them.

I should also say on the piece that I told you about, engaging faith-based organizations, we are also doing programs in Albania, Bulgaria, Italy, I mentioned Romania, and then overseas in Nigeria, Thailand, and the Dominican Republic. We're also working with the Orthodox Church in Romania and there instead of nuns we are working with Orthodox priests because they're the person the victims will likely go to. So it's really targeted to what the religious observance is in the country, and to try and assist in bringing an important part in their culture into a more prominent place in the counter-trafficking operations.

Question: Well what are the biggest problems in Europe in this area, from your point of view?

DAS Ryan: I would say that it's like the United States, in that we worry about demand and also the labor issues. So there's sex trafficking but there's also the labor trafficking.

Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey: And also child tourism, child sex tourism, which is something that under the Bush administration, very tough laws have been passed allowing the U.S. government to grab the person who comes to Europe or comes to any part of the world to engage in sex with either a minor or a trafficked victim, and it has very severe penalties.

Question: Are there specific countries in Europe where the problem is biggest? Is it the Eastern European part?

DAS Ryan: Yes, I think in the European context we have countries of origin, countries of transit, and receiving countries. And in Europe it's unusual that there are countries that are all three. So in the Central European countries they are often all three.

Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey: And I think one of the important relationships to understand is that trafficking is largely driven by lack of economic opportunity. It's the countries where women particularly, men and women, but mostly women, see no real hope of a future, and they're very vulnerable to the promises of a better job. And unfortunately when they get to the destination often their passports are taken, they don't speak the language, and they don't know where to go for help even if they can get away from the traffickers. So you can look at the world and you can pretty well identify a country where the economy is very poor. The underdeveloped parts of the world are going to be the source countries for trafficking and the developed countries are going to be the destination countries.

Question: The legal system for support of the victims, if I understand, the traffickers take their passports or travel visa in order to restrict the victim's movement, and in Belgium's case I understand it is a case-by-case help from the NGOs. So I wonder if you would discuss with the Europeans or other G8 member states about some sort of coordination do you have asylum-seekers and a legal system to support it? It's another dimension, is there any concept to support it politically?

Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey: Kelly is our attorney.

DAS Ryan: Under this law that I mentioned, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and I should tell you that it was controversial when we put it into effect --but it actually creates a visa mechanism for victims of trafficking who cooperate with law enforcement to remain in the United States. There is also federal funding of those victims, and they get virtually the same assistance as a refugee admitted to the United States--access to shelter, housing, education, and healthcare.

I actually handled the first case under the TVPA, and it was heartbreaking. It was four children from Mexico; they were enslaved in a brothel. They didn't even know their age; they didn't even know what state in Mexico they were from. They were put in witness protection and removed from the state that they were in. They weren't even asked to testify because of their young age.. They used other women in the brothel to testify against the traffickers who were imprisoned.

So there is a whole network in the United States created by Congress to protect the victims in the United States. But there was some sense of people who opposed this at the beginning that it might be abused or people might falsely claim it, but it has not been true. It is a permanent ability to stay in the United States, this visa and it leads to lawful permanent residency.

The other thing that I should tell you is that part of our trip has been to meet with our colleagues in European countries at the Intergovernmental Consultations on Asylum, Refugee, and Migration Policies, or the IGC, and one of the things that we're proposing is just along the lines of what you said, is a workshop in Geneva with our European colleagues in IGC on counter-trafficking activities so we can share with them what we've been doing in the hopes that they might find that interesting or useful to pursue, and that they can share with us what they've been doing. So we will be chairing a workshop in the IGC in Geneva this fall.

Question: Can you see any significant changes after the European Union had last I mean did it create any new patterns? Now there's a whole new border on the European Union.

DAS Ryan: The changes in the size and the composition of the European Union have no doubt affected the movement of persons within Europe, and this is one of the migratory flows, unfortunately. It's one the United States feels very strongly about trying to stop. But it has certainly made the movement within the European Union easier.

Question: And also the need to do more outside the European Union, even bigger

DAS Ryan: I mean it's true that when we started on trafficking we really did focus a lot of our activities, our programming activities in Europe, and my belief is that we should move away from that and the European Union can focus on the European activities and we should concentrate our efforts in Asia and in Central and South America. So that sort of been a kind of calculated position on our part, but I can tell you that some of our activities in Belarus, for example, have been terrific. They have really paid off in terms of real consequences for reduction in trafficking of persons, and it's been a model.

Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey: And one of the things I think that has impressed me in travels has been that so much of this is being driven by civil society rather than government. The groups that I've participated in have been a wide range of NGOs, meeting with some government officials, and usually often the American Bar association is involved. But working with civil society to try to do simple things like putting up signs in restrooms warning women, creating hotlines that women can call if they get in a bad situation, assistance for being able to actually call a telephone number and inquire about the legitimacy of a job offer. And a lot of this, as I say, is really being driven not by governments but by civil society at many levels.

DAS Ryan: One of the important things from our perspective is to work with our colleagues from Justice and Home Affairs, or now its new title Justice, Freedom and Security -- on some of the issues that help reduce trafficking: the biometrics issues, the visa/passport issues, the immigration control issues, because traffickers are industrious, and so if it doesn't work in one place they will try another, and we have seen that over and over again.

I can also tell you that from my perspective working on a wide range of issues in the State Department, there seems to be unanimous agreement among almost all states I've worked with that it is a serious problem. There's no debate about it being a bad thing or something that needs to be worked on. The question is how committed governments are when they have other priorities. But I think we've seen a growing interest in eradicating it, but there's a lot of work yet still to do, in the United States as well.

Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey: One of our newest programs that we're in the process of setting up is with Mongolia. The Mongolian government has become interested in trafficking and we're going to work with them to set up an anti-trafficking program and border management program.

Question: I realize you can't talk about this year's report, but you have a multiyear perspective, and among the European countries, can you identify countries that have improved significantly and tell us how they've done that? What methods work? Who's moving up on the ladder?

DAS Ryan: There've been a number of countries that have improved, and I'd rather not talk about a specific country if you don't mind, but I can tell you some of the ways that countries have improved. One is passage of federal legislation, which is required as countries accede to the Convention. We ratified it only on November 3, 2005, but we had long been in compliance with its obligations. So that's one very obvious way. Another obvious way is better number of prosecutions of cases in which there are traffickers, number of victims that have been assisted, and number of programs that try to diminish the trafficking. So if, in fact I just met with a U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission from a European state, and I gave him two very concrete ideas that we will put into effect probably in the coming months, which I think will help in the tier ranking of the country, in which he is serving.

Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey: Many of the countries, at least if you look at Eastern Europe, many of the countries really didn't have a trafficking law per se. Trafficking was just something that fell under various sections of the legal code, and so trying to work with countries to get them to actually do this in a comprehensive fashion, I think, has been one of the things that has allowed countries to advance in terms of the report and the progress that they're making in dealing with the problem.

DAS Ryan: Before we criminalized trafficking, we used the old slavery laws in the United States, the interstate commerce laws that were still on the books, and we used those to prosecute.

Question: But you cannot give us any names about which countries are doing well and good?

DAS Ryan: Well, I mean, you'll see the list, you can look at last year's do we have last year's list with us? So we can show you.

Question: Denmark was Tier 1.

DAS Ryan: Yes

Question: Japan was as well?

Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey: No Japan was Tier 2.

DAS Ryan: Yes, Japan has some difficulties with the Filipino entertainment people Tier 1 is Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Columbia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Morocco, Nepal, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, South Korea, Greece, Spain, Sweden and U.K. So it's very clear that it is composed of many European countries. The Tier 3 countries, none of which are European, Bolivia, Burma, Cambodia, Cuba, Ecuador, Jamaica, Kuwait, North Korea, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Togo, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela. The thing that has interested people is the creation of this Watch List, and there are some movements in that each year. Japan is Tier 2.

Question: But you have been talking with the European Union institutions today about these things, or more about the Justice and Home Affairs area in general?

Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey: This morning our meeting was regarding how the humanitarian programs of the U.S. government are related to border security. Our refugee program, our resettlement program, and how there is a distinct relationship between these programs and security. We just came from Amsterdam, and here too we've been talking about migration.

In September, there will be a major U.N. meeting, the U.N. High Level Dialogue on migration, and the focus of this is hopefully going to be on how international migration can help actually developing countries by the transfer of remittances and skills and knowledge. I will be meeting later today with the European Commission on specific issues that we are very involved in right now Burma, Nepal, and North Korea, and the refugee situation in each of these countries, which not only have humanitarian but also very significant political issues.

I'm going to meet with members of the European Parliament. We'll be meeting tomorrow on because our Bureau is named Population, Refugees and Migration population issues, which are very closely related to migration. But we develop policy for the United States government in these areas and one of the areas that we've been very involved in has been an effort to stop or to call attention to where we believe there are human rights violations, and particularly forced abortions and forced sterilization, coercion in China. So while our meeting here is primarily focused on border-related and security issues in migration, we're talking about variety of things as well.

Question: Have you been talking about the difficulties that the European Union has to actually agree on these measures? Right now it's a very touchy area because it takes unanimity to agree on anything in the European Union in this area of Justice and Home Affairs. And actually they are talking about making it easier to take decisions. Have you been talking about these things and what do you think about it, the EU's problems here?

Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey: Well, I think where we saw this issue -- and it was really quite interesting, yesterday in Amsterdam was when we were talking about the High-Level Dialogue and the different perspectives of the European countries in terms of what they hope to be the outcomes of the High-Level Dialogue on migration, whether they want to see a formalized, institutional body created at the U.N. with an ongoing process with the U.N. secretariat.

Most countries did not have that perspective, most countries were saying that they would like to have some means of a continuing migration dialogue because not only in Europe but in the United States and I think in many parts of the world, migration has become an issue of great interest and great concern. Even though European countries may have different perspectives, EU members will have to come together on a formal EU position. The other thing that was quite interesting yesterday was hearing the perspective of some of the European countries on the problems of integration of the migrant population and how to better achieve integration in a way that doesn't allow for the radicalization and the discontent that unfortunately is being experienced I believe in France right now, with more rioting from migrants and immigrants.

Question: It's not an issue that creates problems for you that the European Union has big difficulties taking decisions in this area?

DAS Ryan: In that where we cooperate is the law enforcement side, in that area there seems to be more ability to come up with a harmonized view in Europe. On the issue of integration, that is the hot issue in Europe, and I think a lot of work is being done here. It's certainly an important issue for the United States. We've expected it as part of the fact that 20 percent of the world's persons who live outside their country of origin live in the United States, so we have a great tradition of being used to newly arrived people and expectations that they will integrate. But there are certainly challenges on that too, and we can certainly understand how immigration is a very emotional issue in some places, including in the United States.

It's a difficult issue, also in countries that have declining birth populations. I was reading during the Austrian presidency, about the Austrians' views about how their country without migration would be reduced by 25 percent until 2050, so I mean it's having a huge effect and how you make people feel a part of the state in which they live, not only there and also be part of the European Union, and feel that they're involved and engaged and not isolated is a key question for Europe and one that I think is very important for Europe to address head on.

Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey: In that light, you might be interested in taking a look. This is an article about a city in New York -- Utica, New York -- a city that was in real bad straits, declining population, people leaving, industries leaving, really the town becoming very rundown. And how by welcoming refugees from all over the world, and this is really an interesting article about refugees that have come from Somalia, from Bosnia, from Burma, refugees from many, many parts of the world that were welcomed by this community, and have really played a major part in revitalizing and rebuilding a community that was in decline.

One of the things from the U.S. perspective that we think is really important is that when refugees arrive at our shores, we have a very community-oriented resettlement program. There are 356 organizations around the United States that do resettlement of refugees, and they work through local churches and community organizations, and ethnic societies that might provide -- if it's a refugee from Burma, there'll be a Burmese community that they'll connect them to.

But the most important and key thing is to get them very quickly language trained, and skill trained and into a job. And I've had the opportunity to visit some of our resettlement programs and talk to employers who are so excited to have found these refugees that have come into their community, and they are so anxious to work, and to become quickly a part of the economy. And obviously to build opportunity for their families, but at the same time they're building these communities, they're revitalizing many communities.

Question: Your talks this afternoon with the Europeans might cover Burma, also North Korea, and some questions in China, if I understand

Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey: Nepal.

Question: Oh, Nepal? Might it include the western part of China, with the Uighurs, where they are some human rights questions?

DAS Ryan: With the Uighurs.

Question: Yes, the Uighurs. Do you think you will exchange views with the Europeans on these issues? And I forgot to ask another question: sweatshops in Europe. Do you plan to discuss with Europeans or any coordination with SIAO or any other organization for controlling this present state?

Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey: The sweatshops are a form where people have been trafficked, and we talk a great deal about sexual exploitation because this is the major form of trafficking, but trafficking for domestic labor and other kinds of farm labor, camel jockeys, there are many ways that people are exploited, and they all fall under the same general outline of our trafficking programs and we regard whether you are trafficked for sexual exploitation or for a sweatshop, we regard it as a form of modern day slavery and the laws and the programs apply. In terms of the Uighurs and other populations where there are human rights abuses, we are involved in all those issues and we'll be welcoming the opportunity to talk with our European colleagues about other things that may of interest and concern to them as well.

Question: Maybe you have already talked about the money flow side. What can you do more to control or discourage this trafficking of human beings in terms of the money flow. Like the United States has done successfully to deter the black market of the weapons of mass destruction. Do you see any possibilities to control?

DAS Ryan: We have asset forfeiture for the trafficking victims, so we'd engage that. We take away their livelihood because that's what hurts them the most sometimes, so we do follow the money flows. But that's not usually the State Department that's engaged in that. It's usually the Treasury Department. But there is active engagement on that issue.

Released on June 8, 2006

ENDS


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