Bringing Home the Victims of Human Trafficking
By William E. Todd, US Ambassador to Cambodia
This article was first published on From the Ambassador’s Penh.
According to estimates, more than 20 million people around the world are living as modern-day slaves – many lured away from their homes by promises of higher paying jobs. On Tuesday, we received some good news when 59 Cambodian fishermen arrived at Phnom Penh International Airport, bringing to an end their nightmare of emotional and physical abuse on fishing boats in the seas around Indonesia. Some of the men had been away for as long as five years, financially and physically shackled to an industry that is often known for taking advantage of people who are unable to defend themselves.
The U.S. government is proud to have played a role in the return of these 59 fishermen through USAID’s Counter Trafficking in Persons (CTIP) program, which financed their voyage back to Cambodia. I’d like to thank USAID’s partners, Winrock International and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), for taking on this important project to bring them home.
I can only imagine how deeply emotional the men’s return will be to their families and friends. Many of the families haven’t heard from their sons, husbands, or fathers for several years. All of them will begin a new journey now as they look to reintegrate into Cambodian society. In addition to physical wounds, many of the returnees have suffered mental and emotional trauma. They will need help to reconnect to the communities that they left behind. They will also need new skills and a helping hand to start a business or find a job that will support them and their families. The U.S. Embassy and our partners will continue to provide support through the CTIP program as they go through this process.
The men’s return to Phnom Penh this week is a welcome point of light on an otherwise dark horizon. Even though slavery is outlawed all over the world, too many men, women – and even children – are modern-day slaves condemned to lives of great suffering and injustice. In Cambodia, sexual and labor trafficking continues to threaten the country’s youth. It’s important that we work together to protect young people from this scourge.
I’m pleased to say we are working with many partners to put an end to trafficking. USAID’s CTIP program works in lockstep with Cambodia’s National Committee for CTIP to implement their recently approved National Plan of Action. Just last month, our CTIP program, working through local partner Legal Support for Children and Women (LSCW), began providing legal assistance to four Cambodian women who were trafficked to China as brides. With help from the Cambodian embassy in China and Winrock, one of the women has returned to her community in Kampong Cham province.
Every time a trafficking victim comes home is a cause for celebration, but there is still much more to do. The U.S. Embassy is committed to working with our local and international partners to end trafficking in Cambodia and to bring home all Cambodians who are being trafficked overseas.