‘’This year’s Trafficking in Persons Report sends a strong message to the world that global crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and enduring discriminatory policies and practices, have a disproportionate effect on individuals already oppressed by other injustices. These challenges further compound existing vulnerabilities to exploitation, including human trafficking. We must break this inhumane cycle of discrimination and injustices if we hope to one day eliminate human trafficking.’’ Secretary of State, Antony Blinken.
Last year marked twenty years of the US State Department’s publication of the annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP). Since then, the world has been engulfed in a pandemic, which destabilized healthcare and economies and continues to decimate the aged and vulnerable in all communities. Sadly, in spite of such hardships, the TIP report for 2021 documents the continuing increase in human trafficking and exploitation as the traffickers relentlessly pursue their ‘’trade,’’ taking full advantage of an evolving crisis and the diversion of resources in attempts to respond to the pandemic.
Yet despite the pandemic being unprecedented in our lifetimes, the TIP 2021 report also documents the flexibility, creativity, tenacity and dedication of countless thousands globally who found ways to ensure the continued work of prevention, protection and prosecution.
Statistically, the Report downgrades Cyprus, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal and Switzerland have been downgraded from the top Tier 1 category to Tier 2, where Saudia Arabia remains for its 2nd year.
Belarus, Burundi, Lesotho and Papua New Guinea have been moved from Tier 3 up to the Tier 2 Watch List, where Ireland remains for a 2nd consecutive year.
Malaysia is downgraded to Tier 3, after a string of complaints by rights groups and U.S. authorities over the alleged exploitation of migrant workers in plantations and factories. It joins Afghanistan, Algeria, Burma, China, Comoros, Cuba, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, North Korea, Nicaragua, Russia, South Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan and Venezuela, each on Tier 3.
On a positive note, the Report celebrates the efforts of anti-trafficking professionals who continued to serve and identify victims as well as prosecute traffickers amidst the pandemic’s devastating effects on the world’s most vulnerable populations.
This year’s report honours eight 2021 TIP Report Heroes, individuals from around the world whose tireless efforts have made a lasting impact on the fight against human trafficking. It is a tremendous uplift to see RENATE President, Imelda Poole, IBVM, recognised with seven other inspirational leaders, Ms. Josiana Lina Bemaka-Soui, Central African Republic; Ms. Chantal Sagbo Sasse ep.Guedet Mandzela, Gabon; Mr. Shoichi Ibusuki, Japan; Ms. Shakhnoza Khassanova, Kazakhstan; Ms. Guillermina Cabrera Figueroa, Mexico; Mohammed al-Obaidly, Qatar and Rocío Mora-Nieto, Spain. Each person was carefully considered and finally chosen for this honour, where they have been described as an inspiring group of leaders, with the award celebrating their important and vital work.
The honorees will embark on a State Department-funded International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), a virtual exchange program that will allow them to gain professional development experience and connect with American communities and organizations committed to ending human trafficking.
While the TIP report and its findings make for sobering reading, let us be inspired by the encouragement from Ms. Kari Johnstone, Acting Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, US State Department.
‘’It is through collaboration and collective understanding of both the nuances of our profoundly changed world and the needs of those affected most by the compounding effects of both human trafficking and the COVID-19 pandemic that a path forward emerges.’’