The Role of People to People Connections in Dismantling Human Trafficking

In late March 2016, Lebanese authorities dismantled one of the largest human trafficking rings in Lebanon’s history -- freeing 75 mostly Syrian women who were fraudulently recruited from Syria and forced into prostitution in Lebanon, experiencing physical abuse and forced abortions. One of the Lebanese officers leading the raid on the trafficking ring -– Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Badran -– had participated in an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) focused on preventing and dismantling human trafficking.  

Badran said the knowledge gained from his IVLP experience helped him to take action that resulted in the arrest of the traffickers and identified and assisted the trafficking victims in Lebanon. Through short-term visits to the United States, current and emerging foreign leaders, such as Badran, exchange ideas, share expertise, and review best practices with their American counterparts. The IVLP lays the groundwork for long-term relationships with Americans working in the same professional fields as the foreign participants, and it has a profound impact on the professionals it engages. 

Badran’s heroic tale was further amplified by regional journalists who had, like him, participated in IVLP exchanges. For example, both Saer Abbas, Beirut Bureau Chief for the Asharq Al Awsat newspaper, and well-known Lebanese blogger Gino Raidy of Gino’s Blog gave in-depth analysis of the trafficking ring and Lt. Col. Badran’s role to uncover it. Gino remarked that the IVLP exchange, “made us all better-equipped journalists and helped foster relationships with folks in the US that help us in our work, just like it helped the police officer do his.”  

Many other members of the IVLP network have also gone on to contribute to anti-trafficking efforts. When Kevin Campbell, Vice President of a U.S. non-profit called Global Ops for The Exodus Road, learned earlier this year of a sex trafficking situation in Bahrain, he knew exactly whom to contact. He called Faeza Khan, Head of Bahrain’s Migrant Workers Rights Unit at the Labor Market Regulatory Authority. Campbell had met Khan during an IVLP meeting in 2015. This connection led Bahraini officials to locate and repatriate 12 Thai women who had been forced into sex trafficking. Following the successful mission, Khan acknowledged how IVLP helps participants forge valuable networks. She wrote, “This experience was really such a great result of the IVLP program to be able to save another human being with whom we had no personal contact and all because a person in Denver reached out to me and I applied the logic I learned from the trip to save a life.”

As we work to end trafficking in persons (TIP) globally, information sharing is imperative to success, as the work of Lieutenant Colonel Badran, Kevin Campbell, and Faeza Khan demonstrates. This is why each year the State Department honors TIP Heroes, individuals around the world who have devoted their lives to the fight against human trafficking. These individuals are NGO workers, lawmakers, police officers, and concerned citizens who share a common goal. They are recognized for their tireless efforts -- despite resistance, opposition, and threats to their lives –- to protect victims, punish offenders, and raise awareness of ongoing criminal practices in their countries and abroad.

Each year in June, we bring TIP heroes from around the world to Washington, D.C., where they receive awards from the Secretary of State. We then send them on an IVLP to cities across the United States to meet with civil rights, local, and legal groups. Upon completion of their IVLP experience, the heroes return home with new ideas and new contacts, and more importantly, they join a network of people around the world who are working together to dismantle human trafficking. The recent example in Lebanon proves the major impact professional exchange networks can have on our effort to end modern slavery.

About the Author: Evan Ryan serves as Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).

For more information:

A Photo of the Chez Maurice Hotel, in Maamelteine, Lebanon, One of the Sites of a Sex Trafficking Ring Broken up by Lebanese Security Forces Involving 75 Syrian Women trafficked to Lebanon and Forced into Prostitution.
Posted by Evan Ryan
May 17, 2016

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