The United States is a strong advocate for increased international cooperation and responsibility-sharing on irregular migration, refugee, and trafficking in persons issues in East Asia and the Pacific. At today’s East Asia Summit (EAS), the region’s leaders responded to President Obama’s call for strengthened cooperation by endorsing the EAS Leaders’ “Declaration on Strengthening Responses to Migrants in Crisis and Trafficking in Persons.” To support this stronger focus on human trafficking and irregular migration challenges, President Obama announced USAID’s comprehensive, five-year plan of action. The plan commits nearly $12 million in the first year, including support for a new regional program which will strengthen cross-border collaboration between source, transit, and destination countries; leverage the private sector to reduce human trafficking in person in global food supply chains; and support improved research and data collection to ensure that interventions against trafficking in persons are targeted and effective.
This new program builds on the work of a separate U.S. assistance package announced by President Obama at the U.S.-ASEAN Special Leaders’ Summit at Sunnylands, California in February 2016, which committed $1,000,000 to support ASEAN in implementing its new Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (ACTIP). The project, awarded by the State Department to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), will begin in October 2016 and run for three years. Specific support includes: strengthening domestic legal systems to offer compensation for victims of trafficking; establishing a dedicated victim compensation fund in each country; and building the capacity of prosecutors to seek criminal damages or compensation.
These new programs will contribute to ongoing and comprehensive efforts aimed at addressing trafficking in persons and irregular migration in Asia. As a leading member of the Migrants in Countries in Crisis (MICIC) Initiative, for example, the United States partnered with the Philippines at the United Nations in June to launch the Global Guidelines to Protect Migrants in Countries Experiencing Conflict or Natural Disaster. This inclusive, state-led, non-binding initiative is a model for other efforts on migration.
The U.S. Government also supports a number of programs in East Asia and the Pacific to protect vulnerable migrants who are at particular risk of human trafficking. In the Greater Mekong Sub Region and Malaysia, the United States funds IOM to train government officials and civil society to identify and assist vulnerable migrants. The project helps bolster regional coordination, particularly through bilateral cooperation on protection, assistance, return, and re-integration for trafficking victims. The United States also supports IOM’s work in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to strengthen coordination within the PRC government on trafficking in persons and migration. The project advances the government’s efforts to address vulnerabilities for irregular migrants and improve the framework for legal migration.
In addition, the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons has 20 open projects in 15 countries in this region totaling more than $10 million. Projects focus on prevention, prosecution, and protection, with funds relatively evenly dispersed across these priorities. These projects also tackle a wide range of challenges, including building government capacity to investigate and prosecute trafficking in persons cases; assisting civil society to provide shelter, legal aid, or job training to trafficking victims or populations at risk; and working to prevent trafficking in persons through awareness raising, community and private sector engagement, and strengthened legal frameworks. Lastly, we are proud to have representatives from the region on the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, which is comprised of eleven survivors who advise federal anti-trafficking policies.
Thailand, Malaysia, Burma, and Laos stand out as priority countries that have received significant programmatic assistance, with each currently benefitting from more than $900,000 in dedicated programs from the TIP Office. One program in Thailand provides direct support to victims of trafficking in the fishing industry, including shelters, legal aid, and witness-protection assistance. A project in Malaysia is improving shelters by training local organizations and authorities on best practices and how to screen for victims. In Burma, a grantee is improving victim-centered investigations and prosecutions through training and support to police, judges, prosecutors, and case managers. In Laos, the TIP Office is supporting the establishment of a shelter for trafficking survivors.
USAID’s new regional program on preventing and combating trafficking in persons across Asia complements its existing bilateral anti-trafficking projects in 11 countries around the region. In its first year of implementation, USAID’s current program in Cambodia has already provided direct assistance to 250 trafficked persons and emergency assistance to over 5,400 deportees from Thailand, of whom 140 were identified as trafficked persons. The 2015 ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children is a landmark regional cooperation framework to combat human trafficking, and USAID is assisting with implementation of ASEAN member state obligations under that convention. USAID also partners with IOM to support safe migration through an innovative communications campaign that targets persons vulnerable to trafficking as well as social attitudes in destination countries that drive demand for goods and services produced by trafficked victims.
United States diplomacy is also focused on this issue. Officials in Washington and at our U.S. Embassies in the region meet regularly with foreign government officials to promote effective anti-trafficking policies, gauge progress in anti-trafficking efforts, and identify and examine trafficking trends. The Department of State annually publishes the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, the U.S. government’s principal diplomatic and diagnostic tool to assess and help guide foreign government efforts to address trafficking in persons.