Awareness on human trafficking, migration challenges vital
Image credit: UNODC
By VILIAME TAWANAKORO
Trafficking people remains a grave concern, and it is crucial that we address this issue collectively, says Dr Rebecca Miller, the regional coordinator for human trafficking and migrant smuggling at the United Nations Office for Drug and Crime (UNODC) Regional Office for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
Speaking virtually from Bangkok, Thailand, Dr Miller said efforts must focus on prevention, protection, and prosecution to ensure the safety and dignity of all individuals affected by these heinous crimes.
She highlighted the wide range of criminal activities associated with trafficking at a June seminar on ‘Labour Migration, Human Trafficking and the Media’ organised by The University of the South Pacific’s Journalism Programme in collaboration with UNODC.
Dr Miller said these activities included drug trafficking, illegal timber and wildlife trade, money laundering, corruption, and border control challenges.
“The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) is a crucial international instrument for governments to take action and cooperate against organised crime,” she said.
“There are protocols established under UNTOC, focusing on the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.”
Dr Miller clarified the distinction between trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, emphasising that trafficking involved exploitation, while smuggling was related to the illegal crossing of international borders.
“It is important to raise awareness about these control mechanisms and dispelling common misconceptions portrayed in media and publications,” she said.
Shifting focus to the global context, Dr Miller mentioned the organisation’s role in collecting information and publishing reports on patterns and flows of trafficking in persons.
She said the 2022 report, which revealed a surprising reduction in the number of detected trafficking victims during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Asia Pacific region experienced a 9 per cent increase in trafficking victims, raising concerns about the impact on vulnerable populations.
“The report also uncovered a decrease in convictions and prosecutions globally, including in the Asia Pacific region.”
Dr Miller expressed concern about this trend, particularly in light of the increased vulnerability caused by climate change and its role as a stress multiplier leading to human displacement.
“Just because it’s not reported doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. And so ignorance is bliss. But right now, ignorance is working against us in terms of human trafficking,” says Fiji lawyer Shirley Tivao, partner at SLS Legal in Suva.
Ms Tivao said human trafficking remained a pressing issue in Fiji, despite being underreported.
Ms Tivao presented legal perspectives on human trafficking in Fiji and highlighted the detrimental impact of ignorance on combating this crime.
“It is important to understand the complexities of human trafficking and the need for simplified laws and support services to address the issue effectively,” she said.
Ms Tivao stressed the significance of Fiji’s participation in the international treaty, the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Human Trafficking, Eespecially Women and Children, in aligning the country with global efforts to combat human trafficking.
“While Fiji has domestic laws in place to address trafficking, including provisions in the Constitution, the Crimes Act, and the Immigration Act, these laws are complex.
“With approximately 35 sections related to human trafficking, navigating and understanding them can be challenging.”
She urged the need for greater clarity and simplicity to facilitate comprehension and ensure comprehensive criminalisation of all forms of human trafficking.
“The lack of statistical data on trafficking in Fiji is a major obstacle,” she shared.
“Considering successful prosecutions and people coming forward to report human trafficking cases as potential indicators, despite limited cases, this calls for a concerted effort to take small steps toward addressing the issue.
“The complexity of the laws, limited statistical data, and insufficient support services are some crucial areas that needs improvement.
“Collaboration is important among government agencies, civil society, and international partners to tackle human trafficking effectively.”
She said Fiji could make significant strides in eradicating these heinous crimes and safeguarding the rights and dignity of people through concerted efforts to address the complexities.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) project coordinator, Venina Niumataiwalu, said the lack of safety nets and inadequate wages contribute to issues such as separation of families and cases of sexual exploitation among migrant workers.
“Labour mobility is a crucial aspect of development, and it is essential to ensure safe and humane migration for all member countries.
“Migration in key sectors such as education and healthcare brings both positive and negative impacts, including technology transfer and social issues that cannot be ignored,” she said.
Ms Niumataiwalu, who presented on IOM’s efforts to address labour migration and human trafficking issues, said migrant workers are highly vulnerable to human trafficking due to factors such as language barriers and lack of awareness about their rights.
“There is a need to collect consistent migration data and establish labor mobility information systems to support evidence-based policymaking.
“We must strengthen policies, legislation, and frameworks at regional and national levels to enhance labor mobility and protect migrants.
“Trafficking in persons remains a significant challenge, and efforts must be made to improve identification, screening, and support systems for victims,” she said.
Ms Niumataiwalu also highlighted ongoing projects by the IOM to address these issues.
“One project focuses on the welfare of migrants and their families, aiming to create support systems and facilitate positive reintegration into communities.
“Another project aims to enhance global mobility governance, sustainable development, and climate change resilience in partnership with relevant organisations.
She stressed the importance of collaboration between governments, civil society organisations, and international partners to combat human trafficking effectively.
“IOM calls for legislation review and the establishment of national referral mechanisms to protect victims and ensure their rights are upheld.
“As labor mobility and human trafficking continue to pose challenges in the Pacific region, the IOM’s efforts to raise awareness and promote comprehensive strategies are crucial steps toward creating a safer and more sustainable environment for migrants,” she said.
The seminar was held at the School of Pacific Arts, Communication and Education Meeting Room at USP Laucala campus as part of the USP Journalism Programme’s seminar series.
Viliame Tawanakoro is a final-year journalism student at USP’s Laucala Campus. He is also the 2023 student editor for Wansolwara, USP Journalism’s student training newspaper and online publication.