Talking with TIP Heroes

With this week’s Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report release, the anti-trafficking movement has been buzzing with activity, collaboration, and progress. We’ve had the privilege of meeting some of the people leading the movement internationally: the 2011 TIP Heroes. These are ten individuals from all over the world who work tirelessly to combat human trafficking. Yesterday, the Department of State coordinated with the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST) to provide anti-trafficking NGOs with a chance to listen to and exchange stories with the Heroes. Today, the TIP Heroes visited the Polaris Project headquarters to share knowledge and learn about our organization.

2011 TIP Heroes at Polaris Project office

We’ve learned from leaders such as Charimaya Tamang, a Nepalese women and a survivor of trafficking who filed the first human trafficking case in Nepal’s history.  She now runs an NGO dedicated to human trafficking prevention. “It is better to prevent than it is to cure,” she says. Another was Bridget Lew Tan, a woman from Singapore who spent her own retirement money to establish an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of migrant workers. In Singapore, she said, there is significant prejudice against this demographic. People need to see migrant workers as humans first, not those who are in the country merely to do the dirty work, but “people just like us.” “Our color for the organization is maroon red,” she tells us, “to represent the color of human blood, which binds us all together. We are all the same.”

Eva Biaudet, a women from Finland appointed to be the National Rapporteur, has spent years dedicated to preventing the exploitation of men, women, and children. She highlighted the importance of recognizing the myriad of other factors that contribute to human trafficking. She points out that combating trafficking is, at its root, about vulnerability. To provide adequate protection to victims, we must not forget the host of contributing factors like poverty, autocracy, or abuse, which hinder prevention. “Trafficking is the same everywhere,” Biaudet says, and when you listen to eight different people share their similar struggles and exhibit similar strategies for fighting trafficking, it’s hard to disagree with her.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Amela Efendic manages one of the largest shelters in the country for trafficking victims. As head of office for the International Forum of Solidarity-Emmaus (IFS), Ms. Efendic works tirelessly as an advocate and caregiver. During her visit to our office, she expressed concern over the lack of severity of prison sentences given to traffickers in Bosnia, citing an example of a man who trafficked 37 girls, to be given only nine years in prison and allowed to escape because the Bosnian judicial system does not consider human trafficking a serious enough crime to warrant strict prison supervision.

These are only four individuals, but all have experiences equally compelling. Nevertheless, each of the Heroes was humble and appreciative. All of them emphasized the fact that they could not have accomplished so much without the help of others. In the wake of the TIP report release, it is satisfying to recognize the impact the report has on commending the incredible efforts of these Heroes. Their inspiring achievements demonstrate how compassion, partnered with dedication and collaboration, can make a real difference in the lives of individuals.

For a full list of the 2011 TIP heroes, visit this page.

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