Paraguay: Going Beyond Rescue to Reintegration

By Eduardo Carrillo

Looking through the window of her office, as she remembers vividly, she sighs deeply. Dwelling upon the memory of all the people she has helped, she begins to narrate to me the story of Petrona, a horror story that fortunately ended happily.

Mrs. Masi has worked in many human trafficking cases, helping counterparts like the Public Ministry and the Ministry of Women in her country, Paraguay, to identify victims of trafficking and, afterwards, to start the recovery process with them.

It all begins in Añaretai, a poor settlement located in the city of Luque, where Petrona, her partner and three children lived in a small one-bedroom house. After some bad financial decisions, they got caught in heavy debts and with only one adult providing income to the house, the situation became unbearable.

One day, one of Petrona’s friend told her about a job in Buenos Aires, where she could work as a maid to a wealthy family that would also take care of the children. The employment agency would take care of all the expenses for the journey.

After consulting with her partner, Jose, they decided that the best option was for her to take the job, given the lack of work and opportunity in Luque. ‘’This is where the hell began,’’ says Mrs. Masi.

Once in Buenos Aires, and after she found the “employment agency,” not only did she not find a job nor the opportunity she had been promised. She had fallen into a web of human trafficking, where she was forced into prostitution, with no opportunity to escape since all of her personal documents were taken from her. That was her life for the next year.

She was able to break free from the network one morning when her supervisor had fallen asleep and left one of the doors open. Argentinian authorities quickly came to her aid to keep her safe from her former captors.

Back in Paraguay, the Ministry of Women took up the case and asked IOM to help provide assistance to the victim. After long conversations in which Mrs. Masi identified Petrona´s abilities and possibilities, they decided that the best venture she could have was a little bazaar and fast food shop for the people in neighbourhood – given the lack of these services in the community, and the cooking abilities she had.

IOM provided Petrona all the things she could possibly need: a freezer, an electronic scale, an electric oven, an iron grill to cook hamburgers on, a food merchandiser cabinet, a mixer, and numerous products for her to sell on the bazaar. “The day all the things were delivered was quite a party,” Mrs. Masi remembers with a smile that ran from ear to ear. Her children made a big “Thank You” poster painted with their own hands, and José made  barbecue for all the IOM Staff. It was a very emotional day.

After a few months, Mrs. Masi went to the neighborhood to monitor Petrona´s progress. The performance of the business venture was way beyond expectations. The business had grown a lot. They had built a whole new room for the bazaar, and Petrona bought a washing machine, something she never had in her life. “Sometimes, she still calls to tell me how big the boys have grown, or that the business is going amazingly well, and that her past is exactly that –  the Past! – with an exclamation mark,” Mrs. Masi concludes.

Given its illegal and clandestine nature, it is very difficult to establish and ensure accurate data on human trafficking. In general, the victims have similar characteristics. In many cases they are people from the countryside who settle in the main Paraguayan cities (Asunción, Ciudad del Este and Encarnación), with low income and low education level, and a high level of responsibility for their families. Through coercion, deception and sometimes even kidnapping, these women are trafficked from Paraguay to the destination countries, with the ultimate goal of  enslaving them in the sex industry.

IOM, as the lead agency on migration, actively contributes to the fight against this crime in Paraguay. Working together with the Public Ministry, the governmental entity with jurisdiction over the subject, IOM has conducted seminars, trainings and other activities  to install the issue in a multi-sectoral national agenda and to help facilitate joint solutions and concrete actions to fight this terrible crime.

As a result of this strategic partnership (IOM) and the Public Ministry recently developed the Diagnosis of Human Trafficking in Paraguay , which will be officially launched in late November. The study provides an analysis of the issue from even before it existed in the legislation, through to the currently available information on identified trafficked persons, including information about their communities of origin, as well as the activities they are forced to perform once they fall into the trafficking networks. The report seeks to highlight the importance of the issue, the situation in which it occurs and the factors that contribute to its existence.

Also, through a joint effort between IOM, the Ministry of Women and the Andean Development Corporation (CAF) the Manual for the Reintegration of Women Victims of Human Trafficking was released in October this year as well as the "Systematization" document of this manual, in which a roadmap is established for government officials to follow in order for the reintegration of victims to be effective and long-lasting.