WASHINGTON, D.C. – Kristen Abrams, the McCain Institute’s senior director of the Combatting Human Trafficking program, was interviewed by Voice of America’s Maya Kvartskhava about the U.S. State Department’s 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report, which measures global anti-trafficking efforts and holds countries – including the U.S. – accountable. This year’s report comes as the world faces an unprecedented humanitarian crisis following Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, which has forced millions to flee. With this hightened risk of human trafficking and exploitaion, as well as the looming crises of food insecurity, climate change and conflict exacerbating vulnerabilities, the 2022 report shows there is still significant work to be done to implement meaningful, long-lasting solutions to prevent and end all forms of human trafficking.
See excerpts from the interview below.
The problem of trafficking in Georgia, Ukraine and globally
By: Maya Kvartskhava
Voice of America
July 20, 2022
What is the situation globally and why is annual monitoring of this problem important?
I congratulate the State Department and the Biden administration on this report. Collecting such information requires monumental work. It’s sort of the gold standard for determining what steps governments should take to combat human trafficking, including here in America. The State Department is also evaluating how the country is fighting trafficking. We are not perfect either.
I would highlight several issues. First: there is excellent progress. Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet the 5 main heroes who were awarded at the ceremony a few minutes ago. They do an incredible job. However, as Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has pointed out, the results have been mixed and there is still much work to be done.
Second: More than ¾ of the countries fail to meet even the minimum standards set by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. There are 22 countries in the last, 3rd category, which means that they are not doing even the minimum to fight trafficking there. So, along with the progress, there are many insurmountable problems…
Third thing I would highlight: I was very impressed by the inclusion of climate change in the results report. As Blinken pointed out, it has a huge impact on groups vulnerable to trafficking, and this is a very important factor.
I would also like to emphasize the fact that the report was issued against the backdrop of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has brought outrageous consequences and enormous suffering to millions of Ukrainians and other people in the region.
We will return to Ukraine soon, but before that, let’s talk about Georgia. From the report, we can say that since 2015, Georgia is still in the first, best countries category. Despite this, there are probably areas that need more work to refine.
Yes, I think it is really remarkable that Georgia is steadily maintaining its place in the first category. This was not always the case. Not long ago, in 2003, Georgia was in the last, 3rd category. So the human rights defenders of Georgia, non-governmental or governmental, are all worthy of praise, who tirelessly fight for the improvement of the situation.
If we judge according to the criteria by which the State Department evaluates the countries, the scale of the labor inspection in Georgia, which monitors the control of forced employment, is really progressing in this direction…
However, both everywhere and in Georgia, the identification, investigation and punishment of trafficking cases were slowed down during the pandemic. Consequently, the victim identification data is reduced and it is desirable to do more work in this direction. This is a global trend and the situation is similar in other countries as well…
Another area I would focus on is that traffickers should not only be punished, but should also be compensated… Judges can be trained to ensure that victims are compensated. This problem is not alien to America either.
Also, we must ensure that the rights of foreign migrant workers are protected, and the entire process of finding and hiring them must be fair. Georgia is not alone in this matter, this problem is fixed in many places.
What can you tell us about the situation in Ukraine and its neighboring countries?
It should be noted that according to the data of the countries that provide asylum to refugees fleeing Ukraine, more than 90 percent of them are women and girls… We have already had a hard time dealing with global trafficking, and this problem has put an additional burden on the countries that shelter them. This group of people is especially sensitive to trafficking.
We don’t have complete data yet, but there are already reports that traffickers are promising jobs that don’t exist in their Eastern European countries, and then, when they find that the job doesn’t physically exist, they agree to much worse terms. We are also aware of the increase in sex trafficking cases. This applies not only to refugees who have left the country, but also to the internally displaced Ukrainian population, who are at high risk of human trafficking.
In reports, I have seen warnings similar to road signs, for example on the Polish border, reminding Ukrainians of the risk of trafficking. What work is being done to prevent trafficking?
Yes, several organizations are working on this, national, regional and international organizations. At the State Department, I met someone from the Ukrainian human rights organization “La Strada”, which fights trafficking on the ground. There were also Polish human rights defenders there, who were sent by the government to eliminate this problem… I also know UN representatives who work with refugees.
In my opinion, the problem now is to ensure that the region does not lack resources and attention while the war continues. Will we be able to do this in the long run? I think we should redouble our efforts to deal with this problem.
Finally, is there anything you would like to add?
I want to point out that this report is not just an assessment of where we are now. It is more of a call to action, a kind of action guide. So let’s not just focus on which country is in which category, which will definitely hit the headlines… but let’s all dive into the recommendations, be it human rights defenders, civil society, government or academia, let’s all care together on real improvement and improvement of the situation.
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