Post by: UN-ACT, informed by the recent Regional Network Meeting with a thematic focus on victim identification. You can contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org or any of the personal email addresses indicated under ‘Contact’.
Effective victim identification procedures are key to a broader protection response in human trafficking cases, aimed at helping those affected (re)integrate successfully into society. However, whilst the ILO estimates that some 20.9 million people around the world are in situations of forced labour, a number often used as proxy for human trafficking as well, less than 50,000 trafficked persons are in fact identified annually.
The importance of, and challenges with, victim identification has prompted key stakeholders in the Greater Mekong Sub-region and Southeast Asia to make the area a key priority of their anti-trafficking work. For example, the 6 members of the COMMIT Process have recently committed themselves in a new Sub-regional Plan of Action to developing ‘standardized regional identification procedures’ involving ‘commonly agreed indicators of potential trafficking cases’.
In a workshop on 16-17 November, representatives from COMMIT and ASEAN members will join forces in Malaysia, the ASEAN chair in 2015, to take first steps towards regionally agreed indicators facilitating victim identification. The workshop is supported by AAPTIP, ILO, IOM and UN-ACT.
All 4 organizations were also involved in the most recent Regional Network Meeting on Human Trafficking (see below), a UN-ACT-facilitated gathering with relevant counter-trafficking initiatives working across the Greater Mekong Sub-region and Southeast Asia. The meeting focused on victim identification as well, with a panel discussing different approaches to the process and feeding into preparations for the workshop in November.
Experiences suggest that victim identification is complicated by a number of factors, not least of all the clandestine nature of the crime, with trafficked persons often found in environments of little state oversight, including fishing boats, private households, or factories, etc. It can also be compromised by victims’ lack of trust towards authorities, be it for experiences of abuse and complicity or perhaps an irregular migration status, resulting in their hesitance to actively seek assistance.
Victim identification is usually based on the concerned individual’s account, and relevant interviews often take place shortly after a person is detected. Aside from possible language barriers in such circumstances, those affected regularly suffer from trauma and confusion, and it can take weeks or months for a person to feel comfortable and safe enough to disclose information about their trafficking experience. This highlights the importance of recovery and rehabilitation support being integrated into victim identification procedures.
Relevant agencies also tend to struggle with questions around mandates. Victim identification is regularly seen as the exclusive responsibility of traditional law enforcement units, although other authorities such as labour inspectors or maritime officials may be more likely to encounter people in situations of forced exploitation. Indeed, the success of victim identification is often linked to whom the trafficked person first engages with.
Victim identification is also fundamentally connected to the broader protection and prosecution response following thereafter. The inadequacies in the latter, which often involve lengthy procedures for repatriation, forced participation in criminal justice proceedings and little to no employment opportunities in the meantime, at times result in trafficked persons proactively avoiding a positive identification. Deportation as an irregular migrant within days can be a worthwhile choice instead.
For further improvements to take place, it is key to integrate the various different stakeholders relevant for victim identification by nature of their work and mandates, on the basis of common, standardized procedures. This may include police, labour inspectors, social welfare, education, health, marine officials or immigration personnel, but should also engage non-governmental organizations due to their work with vulnerable populations at grassroots level and specialized social service expertise.