"These funds will allow us to deal with the issue of trafficking on a regional basis," Igor Bosc, the IOM acting regional counter-trafficking coordinator for Central Asia, told IRIN from the Kazakh commercial capital, Almaty, on Thursday.
Whereas there had been donor support for the various countries in the past, this had been the first time it had been initiated on a regional basis, he explained, emphasizing the opportunity for greater cooperation and coordination among IOM's various partners on the ground on the part of both governmental and nongovernmental organizations.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the five newly independent states of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have witnessed a steady rise in the number of persons being trafficked each year. IOM cites economic disparities with and between countries in the region, together with false perceptions about economic opportunities abroad, as the main "push factors" prompting Central Asians to emigrate.
Whereas there were no exact numbers on the number of people trafficked each year, one IOM official told IRIN in an earlier interview this summer that it stood close to 10,000, many of them women taken to the Gulf States and Russia under false pretences such as spurious offers of employment.
Under a new regional framework made possible by the USAID donation, IOM offices will launch campaigns aimed at informing potential victims of trafficking, as well as capacity building programs to assist governments develop protection mechanisms to help victims and prosecute perpetrators. As part of a collaborative effort, the program will enhance coordination amongst governments, international organizations and NGOs working to combat human trafficking…
To complement these activities, IOM will carry out a regional research project to determine the scope of the incidence of trafficking in the region and provide training for consular officials, to be funded by the Norwegian government.
The program will also focus on building the capacity of NGOs which operate hotlines and conduct community outreach, as well as on creating a Central Asian regional network of NGOs working on trafficking issues.
Comparing the trafficking problem among the five countries, Bosc described the circumstances obtaining in all of them as similar. In Tajikistan, the issue of labor exploitation in trafficking is more of a problem, while in others it is more of an issue of trafficking for sexual exploitation. "There are different contexts, but the scope of the problem is pretty much the same for all the countries in the region."
Bosc maintained that receiving constructive government support for the IOM's efforts represented a major challenge as many of the governments misunderstood the whole issue of trafficking, often confusing it with prostitution. Moreover, many countries in the region had particularly conservative views on any discussion of their women, with some governments asking NGOs and government officials not to talk about the problem. "This doesn't make fighting this problem any easier," Bosc said.
IOM began implementing counter-trafficking programs in Central Asia in 1999. Since then, over 23 hotlines have been established, and IOM has helped victims to return to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The agency has also conducted information campaigns and successfully lobbied for the introduction of coherent counter-trafficking policies in all four countries.
IRIN, October 02, 2003