About the Author: Ambassador Mark P. Lagon is Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State and Director of the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
Last month, in my role as envoy to combat modern-day slavery, I traveled to Greece, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Jordan. These countries were noted in this year’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report as grappling with the trafficking of migrants for both commercial sex and forced labor.
The 2008 TIP Report emphasized how migrants can be vulnerable to human trafficking and stressed ways that governments and businesses around the world can shrink this window of vulnerability -- from addressing how recruiters get victims ensnared in false offers and debt to how all too often migrant men, women, and children are treated as disposable and less than human. Source and destination countries for migrants have responsibilities under international law and basic decency to reduce the vulnerability to migrant workers that become tantamount to slaves. Sri Lanka and Pakistan are considered “source” countries for migration. Greece and Jordan are “destination” countries for migration.
As is the case for all of my trips overseas, the goal of this trip was to engage foreign governments diplomatically in the fight to end human trafficking, and to urge more action from the governments -- with the United States poised as their willing partner. I am pleased to say I saw many successes on this recent trip (as well as areas in need of improvement) and wanted to share with you my impressions.
I first traveled to Greece which is in effect a gateway to the EU, as migrants enter Greece given its geography, and then are free to move within the EU borders. One particularly vulnerable group is unaccompanied children arriving in Greece from other countries. I found that despite traffickers constantly changing methods to coerce victims and evade law enforcement, it is encouraging that police officials I met with in Athens are working hard to tackle the problem and in close cooperation with NGOs to identify victims.
Cooperation with NGOs does not, however, include sustained funding for their victim protection work. I strongly encouraged the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs to devote more resources to shelters. We agreed it is a very viable option to give those resources to NGOs to do the job -- as often the most nimble, nurturing, and non-intimidating caregivers. I also stressed the need to raise public awareness about the causes and consequences of trafficking, including among the clients of commercial sex.
I was very pleased to present an award to Emma Skjonsby Manousaridis of the NGO Nea Zoi (New Life) who was noted in our Report as a “Hero Acting to End Modern-Day Slavery” for her work with prostituted TIP victims, highlighting the importance of demand reduction efforts, particularly in countries with legalized prostitution. Other countries have pursued this course, such as the UK and its Blue Blindfold Campaign, and Denmark which budgeted $300,000 last year to television spots, billboards and leaflets on demand reduction.
Next I traveled to Sri Lanka. I was encouraged to see the beginning of efforts to achieve the release and rehabilitation of child soldiers from the conflict in that island country. The Government of Sri Lanka in working with UNICEF has exhibited a will to address the hard job of setting a child who has been a soldier, porter, or sex slave on a path to a new life.
However, I was troubled by the lack of prosecutions and punishments of those responsible for human trafficking -- from mendacious recruiters of migrant workers, to those who lure children (including many boys in addition to girls) into the sex trade for “customers” from abroad and from Sri Lanka. Moreover, it was clear to me from meetings with the Ministry of Justice in Colombo that there needs to be much greater sensitivity to what TIP is. The U.S. Embassy and G/TIP continue to offer a helping hand on such training and capacity-building in Sri Lanka.
Editor's Note: Read about Ambassador Lagon's travels to Pakistan and Jordan in his next entry.