A Place of Refuge
By Pamela J. Karg*
NEW YORK, August 15, 2008—Five years ago a sick, old man named Tigran** was sold into slavery in Chechnya and was returned to Armenia without any documents nor means for supporting himself. He quickly became disillusioned, as well. His house had been sold during his absence by traffickers who had taken his property documents by force. There were no close relatives with whom he would have traditionally lived under the circumstances—nor were other relatives in a position to host him.
With nowhere else to turn and because he had unwittingly fallen prey to the growing global problem of slavery and human trafficking, Tigran came to UMCOR and its Anti-Trafficking Program. The program provides medical, psychological, social and legal assistance to survivors of trafficking.
Working with its specially-trained legal experts, UMCOR helped Tigran obtain a new passport. The program's doctors made arrangements for emergency medical assistance to repair a strangulated hernia Tigran had developed. The professional medical and social staff also helped him get accepted into a state-defined disability group so he could collect his retirement pension even though he had worked outside the country for several years.
Finding a Home
The only unresolved question Tigran faced was where to live. Traditionally, the majority of elderly Armenian people live with their family. However, Tigran had nothing. He could stay for awhile in the shelter UMCOR runs as part of its Anti-Trafficking Program, but Tigran was a proud man and wanted a small space to call his own.
Working with the Armenian Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, UMCOR's legal and social professionals were able to help secure a room for Tigran at a state-run retirement home. Today, he has a warm bed, food, medical care, a few friends among the other residents, and no fear that someone may force him into slavery again.
UMCOR in Armenia
UMCOR has been working in Armenia since 1994 through its non-governmental organization (UMCOR NGO). The Anti-Human Trafficking Program has a variety of components that both prevent people from being trafficked and helps those who have suffered from it.
UMCOR assists persons who have been trafficked with a safe environment and reintegration back into society. UMCOR also provides medical services, psychosocial support, and legal counseling. A vocational training program helps those at risk for trafficking to learn needed job skills so they are less likely to seek employment outside of Armenia and therefore less likely to be trafficked.
In addition to providing support to survivors, UMCOR combats further human trafficking by training border guards and police how to detect and assist populations at-risk for trafficking, operating a telephone hotline for people to get more information, and conducting public education and outreach activities.
*Karg is a United Methodist Volunteer in Mission serving in Armenia
**Not his real name