Project Profile — UMCOR Anti-Human Trafficking
Freeing Slaves to Rebuild Lives
The single Armenian mother was barely out of her teens when a human trafficker threatened to kidnap her 9-month-old baby if she refused to do what he said. He forced her into prostitution, keeping her enslaved and taking all of the money she earned.
After more than a year, the woman saw the telephone number for the human trafficking-prevention program in Armenia run by the United Methodist Committee on Relief. She called the hotline and found her way to the program's shelter. Police later arrested her trafficker.
The Anti-Human Trafficking Project (#333615) is one of UMCOR's many efforts in Armenia, a nation of 2.9 million people in Eurasia. UMCOR has implemented relief and development programs there since 1994, three years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The anti-trafficking project, which began in 2004, works with government and non-government organizations to raise awareness. In addition to operating the hotline, it airs public-service announcements in the media and trains police, judges and social workers how to identify and help victims.
UMCOR's shelter is the only one in Armenia where survivors of trafficking can find a safe and comfortable place to seek rehabilitation.
"This victim assistance is totally comprehensive," said Nicholas Jaeger, an UMCOR program manager in Armenia. "We provide medical assistance, legal assistance and job training. We try to reconnect victims of trafficking with their families so they can more successfully reintegrate into society."
No one knows for sure the total number of human trafficking victims, but global estimates soar into the millions — mostly women and children — who are currently in forced labor, bonded labor and forced prostitution. Both men and women are trafficking victims.
Men typically become victims of labor trafficking after applying for jobs outside Armenia, where the unemployment rate is 35 percent.
"Oftentimes, women are promised a job abroad as a housekeeper or a teacher or a beautician, and they are trafficked into prostitution," Jaeger said. "By the time they make it back to Armenia and connect with our shelter services, that's usually what these largely young women have gone through."
Tom Gillem is a freelance writer based in Brentwood, Tenn.
This article was originally published in the November-December 2013 issue of Interpreter, www.interpretermagazine.org. Interpreter, the official ministry magazine of The United Methodist Church, is a publication of United Methodist Communications.
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