A story of a girl…

UMCOR anti-trafficking activities

Trafficking in human beings (THB) is a multi-dimensional issue. It is a crime that deprives people of their basic rights and freedom, increases global health risks, fuels growing networks of organized crime, and is an obstacle to development. The impacts of human trafficking on the individual, family and society are devastating. Victims may suffer physical and emotional abuse, rape, and threats against themselves and their families. Human trafficking undermines the health, safety, and security of nations and has long-term implications for all of society. The proliferation of trafficking in Armenia has been driven by a combination of factors: man made and natural disasters such as war and earthquake; transitional processes that shook social and economic conditions creating an increase in unemployment and poverty; porous borders; and weak legislative protection and legal processes.

Through initiatives by the Republic of Armenia and international actors an effective counter trafficking policy has been developed, legislative changes have been introduced, and many activities have been implemented.The Government of Armenia (GoA) has ratified relevant international counter trafficking instruments, including the UN Palermo Convention and Protocol, and the Council of Europe (CoE) Convention on Actions Against Trafficking in Human Beings. The GoA has introduced important changes in its own legislation, such as strengthening concepts of THB as they relate to criminal legislation and creating better defined criminal sanctions.

In efforts to comply with minimum international standards, the GoA cooperated in a joint UMCOR/United Nations Development Program (UNDP) program that started in 2004. Under this program, UMCOR developed many important components to prevent trafficking: specialized information materials, seminars, awareness campaigns, radio and TV information programs, a hotline, a victims’ shelter and drop-in center. Effective cooperation has been established with relevant state partners, including border guards, police, the Prosecutor General’s Office, social, health and labor authorities on national and local levels, as well as NGOs and international agencies. Victims of trafficking (VoTs), both men and women, have received various packages of assistance including shelter, legal consulting and representation in court; individual and group psychological therapies; medical assistance including hospitalization; and reintegration activities such as vocational skills training, job placement and financial assistance.

A safe, confidential shelter of UMCOR is providing medical, psychological, employment and legal counseling, as well as reintegration services, for victims rescued from trafficking. It can house eight to ten survivors. Victims stay in the shelter depending on the psychological and physical recovery they need.

In 2010, UMCOR was approached by the GoA to develop a joint model for a national shelter for VoTs with financial support from the GoA. This collaboration and the state financial support covers expenses connected with the shelter premise rent and continued in 2012 as well.

UMCOR also provides project beneficiaries vocational skills trainings and covers their living expenses until they would be able to earn money themselves. Reintegration services also include employment counseling, which refers victims to exsting resources such as governmental programs or projects of local and international NGOs for employment or vocational training. UMCOR staff conducts trainings on health related issues (Prevention of HIV/AIDS and STIs; reproductive health, etc.).

UMCOR  maintained the toll-free hotline to prevent human trafficking and to assist VoTs by providing a variety of information to clients including advice about laws and rights of migrants in the destination country, how to access assistance in the destination country, and refer clients to available assistance for health, employment, shelter, medical and legal aid issues.

 UMCOR anti-trafficking hotline 



“Monologue with destiny”
Written by 'Lusine' - victim of trafficking in humans

“Why you treated me so cruelly. I loved you that much, rejoiced at you, believed and trusted you, but you? You have turned your back on me, despised me at the time when your friendly attitude towards me was needed more than ever. What is my fault? Is it possible to treat like this a person who believed and trusted you? Don’t think that I will leave everything at your disposal as I have used to. Now everything has changed, now everything I will decide myself, I will chose my way and won’t go the way you have chosen for me. I will never forgive you for the loss, the loss for which I have cried already so much. No, these are not the tears but something that has got into my eyes. Don’t think that you have ruined everything. You see that not everything is in your hands. I will prove that I am independent from you and everything will not be the way you want.”        

'Lusine' has grown up in an extremely poor family in one of the villages of Armenia. She was the oldest among the four children of the family. Her parents were working hard but the money they earned was not enough for the survival. The difficult social-economic conditions of the family didn’t allow her to have any hopes for the future, she couldn’t obtain any education and since her parents have been working all day long she had to take care of her brother and sisters. At the age of 18 'Lusine' got married. It seemed that life was giving her an excellent chance. Soon she had a baby and was happy. However, the dreams of having a happy family very soon ruined. As her husband didn’t have work, he had to leave for Russia to earn money and got disappeared there. 'Lusine'’s situation was unbearable. She had no money, no means for living, only the hungry child that she had to take care of. And there was no way to go back home, as the life at parents’ home didn’t improve since she left. 'Lusine' herself has realized, that together with the baby she would become an additional burden for the family.   

'Lusine' sent her child to the state run boarding school and decided to find a job to be able to take care of the child and to collect some money to buy an apartment. She got job of a waitress.  She could visit her child and make plans for future. Of course money that she was able to earn working as waitress at the cafe was not enough to cover her and her child’s living expenses, but one has to dream to survive, and Lusine was dreaming about her own house where she would live with her child. But time was going on and the boy was growing, as well as the expenses for his care. 'Lusine' had to borrow money from her friend, but she could not return it in time. This was the first step of the trap.

One day one of the cafe visitors proposed 'Lusine' the same job of waitress with, of course, much higher salary and better working conditions abroad. 'Lusine' thought that this could be the way out from her desperate situation. After working some time there she thought she would be able to return her debt and even buy a house she dreamed of. But all her dreams and hopes crashed down when she arrived to the destination point. There were no cafés or restaurants to work as a waitress, her passport was taken from her as soon as she arrived and she was forced into prostitution. The situation was so desperate that twice she attempted to commit a suicide, only the thoughts about her child kept her from doing that. She somehow managed to escape from her pimps and be back to Armenia. Having no documents 'Lusine' was stopped at the border.

Armenian border guards already trained by UMCOR, identified her as a victim of trafficking and called UMCOR to take her to UMCOR’s shelter. 'Lusine' agreed to stay at the shelter, but she wanted to be there with her son, as she missed him very much and could not stand there without seeing him. 'Lusine' stayed at the shelter operated by UMCOR for victims of trafficking in the framework of “Assistance to victims of human trafficking” project for six months. Her son was brought to stay with her in the shelter. With her son next to her the recovery was going quicker. In the shelter she received full medical assistance and psychologists helped her to overcome the trauma and rebuild her self-confidence. However, her story does not finish here. UMCOR staff continues to support her and puts all efforts to help her to reintegrate back in her community, to solve her daily problems, provides her small stipend to start her life, looking for an employment opportunities for her, and works on solution of her housing problem.  Reintegration is extremely important part of project’s work and differs in each individual case. It requires from staff maximum care, and long-term and systematic work.

Since the beginning of the project the UMCOR’s shelter staff has seen many human stories: all different, all require humane and professional approach.  'Lusine'’s story is one of the many.

These stories of suffering and humiliation of women and men - victims of trafficking - are diverse, with different root causes and situations in which victims find themselves after returning home. Not all have courage after returning to call for help, not all believe that something in their life can be changed if they apply for help. Not all can find on their way knowledgeable people that can help, as it was in 'Lusine'’s case. Border guards were able to identify her as a victim of trafficking and refer for help, because in the framework of the UMCOR’s project 120 border guards have been trained on identification of victims of trafficking. There have been cases that victims of trafficking were referred by social welfare administration, which was also a result of close cooperation and training provided by UMCOR project to government employees. Many victims are referred by police and identified by partner local NGO through outreach work and information campaign and hotline service.

The UMCOR’s “Assistance to victims of human trafficking” project had multi component structure, where all the components were structured so as to complement each other by building effective victim assistance model. But irrespective of the fact that project seems to cover all the aspects of victims’ assistance, trafficking in humans deals with different human stories and destinies that is impossible to predict and project. Project deals with people with different social and psychological situations and those who suffered deep trauma, thus requires a very specific approach to heal every individual. The shelter became that missing family and warm environment for those who lost all hope in human kindness.  

People like 'Lusine' deserve new chance, new opportunities in making their life happy and all efforts should be made to make it come true. And from its side, UMCOR can assure that every dollar put in the project is used to create all the possibilities for the victims to recover both physically and mentally, obtain new specialty, find a job and successfully reintegrate into society.