Refuge for Survivors of Human Trafficking
By Judith Santiago**
January 11, 2010—Anahit*, 24, lived in a small town in Armenia. She has no parents, only a sister and a brother who migrated to Russia in search of employment. Like her siblings, Anahit was also in need of work, but due to difficult socio-economic conditions in Armenia, local jobs were scarce. Anahit was persuaded by some acquaintances to travel to Dubai where she could work as a housemaid. In pursuit of this opportunity, Anahit left her home with hopes of a promising future.
Shortly after arriving in Dubai, Anahit connected with her prospective employers who made luring promises for work and success. Her new-found opportunity quickly spiraled into a hellish nightmare— Anahit was forced into prostitution, through one of the most lucrative traps in the world—human trafficking.
For Anahit and others like her, hope for a better life is tragically deferred. Thankfully, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) Armenia’s Anti-Human Trafficking Project, with funding support from the Dr. Edward C. and Georgina Perkins Fund of the United Methodist Church, shelter services are provided to rescue and offer refuge to survivors of trafficking like Anahit.
In observance of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month in January, UMCOR is encouraging United Methodists to remember trafficked survivors everywhere. Please share information to eliminate forced labor and involuntary servitude, or consider taking up a special offering to restore and heal those traumatized by human slavery.
An estimated 2.5 million people around the world are are forced into unpaid labor including sexual exploitation. The majority of trafficked survivors are between 18 and 24 years of age, and an estimated 1.2 million are children, according to UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking. Traffickers around the world make about $31.6 billion each year. The trafficking industry is a profitable because little start-up capital is needed and prosecution is relatively rare. For every 800 people trafficked, only one person is convicted, according to the US State Deparment.
Anahit’s year-long ordeal involved intense psychological trauma and physical violence. When the police conducted a raid in Dubai, Anahit was deported back to her home. Anahit returned to Armenia very ill and depressed and her sister came to care for her.
UMCOR Armenia’s comprehensive anti-trafficking programming played a key role in Anahit’s reintegration back into society. After learning about her situation through a referral by local police, an UMCOR social worker and psychologist visited with Anahit to discuss options for recovery. Anahit stayed in a shelter and received UMCOR assistance including much-needed medical attention and treatment. An UMCOR psychologist worked with Anahit to help her overcome the trauma she endured by helping her learn specific coping strategies. This helped her regain trust in other people while building her self-esteem. In addition to the medical and psychological care, Anahit also received a nourishing diet in a warm, safe and loving environment.
“Our shelter program is a truly comprehensive solution for those wounded by traffickers," says Kathryn Paik, program officer for UMCOR's Europe-Asia office. "They not only receive physical and psychological healing, but are also supported and encouraged through vocational training opportunities, significantly reducing their chances of being re-trafficked.”
Today, Anahit’s is taking active steps toward a brighter future. She is participating in manicurist training provided by UMCOR, and is one of the best students in her class. Professional skills training including culinary arts and hairdressing, help students enter the work field and live a life independent of trafficking predators.
In partnership with the United Nations Development Program and in coordination with the Government of Armenia, UMCOR Armenia’s anti-human trafficking program provides those who have been trafficked with a safe environment and reintegration back into society. UMCOR combats further human trafficking by training border guards through US Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs on 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.
How Your Can Help
Observe National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month with a gift to Anti-Human Trafficking, UMCOR Advance #333615, and use Refuge for Survivors of Human Trafficking church bulletin to collect a special offering.
*Not her real name
**Santiago is the Project Manager for UMCOR Communications.