Survivors of Human Trafficking: Not Without Hope
by Kathryn Paik *
May 2, 2011—“Not without Hope,” the walls of the shelter seem to whisper to new arrivals, survivors of human trafficking in Armenia. Here, in an ambience of trust and encouragement, residents re-learn the meaning of hope after seemingly endless years of sexual servithude and forced labor.
The shelter is part of a broader human-trafficking awareness, prevention, and response program of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). This month, the United Methodist Women’s Division is joining UMCOR in lighting a beacon of hope for the seemingly invisible victims of human trafficking in this East European nation.
With a grant of $25,000, United Methodist Women is helping UMCOR launch its Not Without Hope campaign in support of the shelter. The UMCOR-United Methodist Women partnership will provide protection and an array of services to help rehabilitate and reintegrate trafficking victims into society.
Established in 2004, UMCOR’s shelter program has customarily relied on institutional funding from government and United Nations agencies. Recently, however, government and UN funding have declined due to competing priorities, and UMCOR has struggled to keep its services available for victims.
In 2010, UMCOR successfully negotiated with the Armenian government’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs to co-fund the anti-trafficking program, with the government picking up the tab for rental expenses of the shelter. The cost is only about US$16,000 a year, but the agreement marked an important milestone. No other non-state agency in the country had successfully negotiated official cooperation in the provision of direct assistance to victims of trafficking.
The full cost to implement UMCOR’s shelter program is about US$ 100,000 a year. Currently, with the assistance of United Methodist Women, UMCOR has enough funding to keep the shelter going until the end of July 2011.
After that date, if new funds do not become available, trafficking survivors will have to turn to the state for services, which the government offers only in a limited fashion and only if victims cooperate with law enforcement.
The proliferation of human trafficking in Armenia is fueled by a combination of factors that include war, natural disasters, poor social and economic conditions, high unemployment, porous borders, and the absence of adequate legislation to punish traffickers and protect victims.
Armenia is primarily a country of origin for human trafficking, although it also has been used for transit and as a destination. Victims from Armenia are trafficked to Turkey, Greece, Russia, Western Europe, and the Middle East, among other destinations.
UMCOR’s victim assistance program in Armenia is the only program in the country that provides long-term, comprehensive reintegration services to women, children, and men victims of human trafficking, regardless of whether victims cooperate with law enforcement. Program staff at the shelter provide medical and psychosocial care, legal assistance, and vocational-skills training. In this way, survivors receive the support they need to keep them from falling prey to traffickers again.
The issue of human trafficking has been a deep concern for United Methodist Women. Through the Intercept Human Trafficking Initiative and through the training in advocacy and understanding that it offers its members, United Methodist Women actively raises awareness in churches and communities in the United States and beyond for policy changes to combat human trafficking. Read more.
By supporting UMCOR’s shelter program, United Methodist Women is bringing hope to vulnerable women and men in Armenia. It is fighting human trafficking effectively by combining its advocacy work with direct assistance for victims of trafficking. View a webcast on human trafficking, hosted by UMCOR and United Methodist Women.
United Methodist Women’s support for UMCOR is critical for sustaining the shelter program while the need to protect and assist trafficking victims continues. Additional funding is urgently needed in support of the Not Without Hope campaign, to keep the shelter going beyond July and to raise public awareness of human trafficking in Armenia to impede and prevent it.
You can help. Download an anti-human-trafficking postcard and view the UMCOR-United Methodist Women webcast on human trafficking. Support the Not Without Hope campaign with your gift to Anti-Human Trafficking, UMCOR Advance #333615.
*Kathryn Paik is the UMCOR program officer responsible for UMCOR programs in Armenia.