By Pamela J. Karg*
July 10, 2008—Living in poor economic conditions as a single mother of three, Mariam** had reached the end of her rope. With no job prospects in her hometown, no support from her husband who had abandoned them, and no government assistance available, her only hope seemed to be in Moscow where a friend promised her a well-paying job. Mariam tearfully asked her parents to care for her children while she joined the exodus of Armenians seeking better jobs on foreign soil.
Shortly after she arrived in Moscow, the promised job turned into a nightmare when Mariam was quickly transported to Dubai, coerced out of her legal papers, and trapped into prostitution.
Authorities eventually caught up with Mariam on Dubai's streets and tossed her into the migration prison. The now-pregnant Mariam felt even more desperate than when she had begun this odyssey. The immediate removal of her healthy baby boy after she gave birth pushed Mariam into a deep depression.
Help at Last
Eventually, Mariam and her son were sent back to Armenia where well-trained border authorities recognized her as someone who had been trafficked. They immediately referred her to the shelter operated by the United Methodist Committee on Relief's (UMCOR) Anti-Trafficking Project. The border authorities knew how to recognize Mariam as someone who had been trafficked because of the training they received through UMCOR's anti-trafficking program.
UMCOR provided Mariam and her baby with extensive medical examinations to check for any health problems. Mariam also met with UMCOR psychologists to care for the emotional trauma she had experienced. In addition, UMCOR attorneys advised Mariam of her legal rights and presented her with various options she could take as a result of the abuse she suffered. The attorneys also explained what she needed to do to obtain a new passport and other documents that were taken from her by her abusers.
A Difficult Return
The harsh economic conditions Mariam faced on her return to Armenia were virtually the same as those she left. Compounding the economic problem was her parents' refusal to take her back. Rumors had spread about Mariam's forced prostitution and half-Armenian baby. Her parents were embarrassed. Mariam's older children were taunted and shunned. And her oldest daughter even dropped out of school because the public shame was more than she could bear.
Yet, the children were torn. After all, this was the mother who loved them so much that she left for a job in a foreign country so they could have better lives. And they missed her. They at least wanted to see her.
The trained anti-trafficking counselors set up a meeting between Mariam and her children. It went well. They loved their new baby brother. Mariam and her children slowly bonded back together. It caught the eyes, and hearts, of Mariam's parents.
A Family Reunited
Despite the social and cultural hardships thrown at them, Mariam's parents decided that it was better for her to return to their home since her children wanted their mother so much.
Family is the cornerstone of Armenian culture, and her family slowly realized that Mariam had done nothing wrong. She was coerced, tricked and manipulated into a terrible situation in her search for a way to help her family.
Mariam's family is slowly rebuilding itself. Some days are better and easier than others, but they're coming together despite the devastating obstacles each member has suffered as because of human trafficking.
UMCOR in Armenia
UMCOR has been working in Armenia since 1994 through its non-governmental organization (UMCOR NGO). The Anti-Human Trafficking Project 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 her real name