Regional workshop to protect Victims of Human Trafficking underway in Durban

By | 23 April 2008

Policy makers and senior government officials from the Southern African region will from today attend a three-day Migration Dialogue for Southern Africa (MIDSA) workshop in Durban, South Africa, aimed at addressing the need for protective mechanisms to assist victims of human trafficking in Southern Africa.

Hosted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Southern African Migration Project (SAMP), the MIDSA workshop, which will take place 23-25 April 2008, brings together Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, as well as Comoros and Seychelles, to discuss the unique needs of victims of human trafficking and instruments that can be put in place to aid in their protection.

In Southern Africa, there are currently few state and regional mechanisms that address the specific needs of human trafficking victims. Meanwhile, trafficked persons often find themselves enslaved in situations where their documents are confiscated, where they are held against their will, where they often suffer violent abuse, where their families are threatened with harm, and/or where they are bonded by a debt that they have little or no chance of ever repaying. Often brought through illegal means into the country of destination, they are usually afraid to seek help when able to do so, and if they do come into contact with law enforcement officials, they may be treated as illegal immigrants rather than victims. The clandestine and often syndicated criminal nature of human trafficking poses a threat to victims’ lives, even after they have been rescued.

These and a host of other challenges will be on the table as senior state officials from the region and beyond meet in Durban to discuss solutions.

“The needs of victims of trafficking are unique to those of other victims of abuse. Because of the clandestine nature of human trafficking, and because many countries in the region have yet to legislate comprehensive anti-trafficking laws, many of these victims fall through the cracks, with little or no attention paid to their protection or overall wellbeing,” says Hans Petter Boe, Regional Representative for IOM in Southern Africa. “This workshop will raise awareness among key government officials, and invites them to participate in addressing these specific needs by discussing protective mechanisms and coming up with concrete recommendations that can be adopted in the region for these victims.”

Through its Southern African Counter-Trafficking Assistance Programme (SACTAP), IOM has, since 2004, assisted 238 victims of human trafficking in Southern Africa. The programme offers its beneficiaries secure accommodation, medical assistance, counseling, legal assistance and sustainable skills training. IOM often provides its beneficiaries with assisted voluntary return (AVR) to their home countries, and reception and/or reintegration assistance upon return. IOM also conducts research on ongoing trends of human trafficking in the region, runs regional and national information and awareness campaigns, and trains law enforcement agencies and social service providers to identify and assist victims. IOM also sits on various governmental task teams in the region, and remains at the disposal of its member states in seeking solutions for the victims of this trade, often nationals of countries in the region.

Building on such experiences, the MIDSA workshop on Regional Protection Mechanisms for Victims of Human Trafficking is expected to elaborate on the specific needs of victims of human trafficking, to draw from successful victim protection initiatives in the region and other parts of the world, and culminate in recommendations to ensure that victims of trafficking are properly identified, assisted and protected.

Keynote presentations will be delivered inter alia by South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the SADC Secretariat’s Gender Unit, and Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), which is one of Africa’s leading national counter-trafficking agencies.

With over 800,000 people estimated to be trafficked across borders annually, virtually every country in the world is affected by trafficking in persons. The challenge for countries, however, continues to be the search for mutual solutions, that are to the benefit of both origin and destination countries. While cross-border trafficking is easier to detect, countries must also turn inwards to address the plight of those trafficked within borders, from poorer parts of the country to urban centers, where the demand for cheap labour and other areas for exploitation often flourish, unbeknownst to all. In the SADC region, given the nature of cross-country flows, it is prudent to discuss some mechanisms to exonerate victims from punishment for their illegal status, while also allowing for the alleviation of regulations pertaining to seeking residence and restitution or work status in a SADC country, where it may be dangerous to return to the country of origin.

Notes to editors:

  1. The MIDSA workshop on ‘Regional Protection Mechanisms for Victims of Human Trafficking’ takes place at Hilton Durban Hotel, Durban, South Africa from 23-25 April, 2008
  2. Journalists are invited to attend the opening ceremony which runs from 9am – 9.50am on Wednesday 23 April, 2008.
  3. The International Organization for Migration has been responding to human trafficking in the region through its Southern African Counter-Trafficking Assistance Programme (SACTAP). The programme aims to support and develop the capacity of governments and civil society groups to deal with the problem of trafficking in the region. It is organised into 4 components – victim assistance, capacity building, research and data collection, and information and awareness raising.
  4. The UN protocol on trafficking in persons defines trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons by improper means, such as force, abduction, fraud or coercion, for an improper purpose, like forced or coerced labour, servitude, slavery or sexual exploitation. Countries that ratify the Protocol are obliged to enact domestic laws making these activities criminal offences, if such laws are not already in place.
  5. The MIDSA initiative is a collaborative effort between IOM and its partner, the Southern African Migration Project (SAMP). IOM and SAMP are the main facilitators of the MIDSA workshops, which bring together senior government officials from countries in Southern Africa to discuss and agree upon migration-related issues of regional concern. MIDSA workshops have addressed migration and development; migration management; labour migration; forced migration; migration health; and irregular migration concerns such as human trafficking and migrant smuggling.

International Organization for Migration
Karen Blackman: or +27 (0) 12-342-2789

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