A workshop in Syria to address the problem of human trafficking and raise awareness has greatly contributed to understanding the scope of the issue, government officials said as they consider new anti-trafficking legislation.
The workshop was held in Damascus on 11-12 September by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior.
“The holding of this workshop does not imply that there is serious trafficking problem in Syria. The Syrian authorities took the initiative to cooperate with IOM in organizing this workshop as part of the capacity building activities of IOM in Syria,” Richard Danziger, Head of IOM’s Counter Trafficking Service, said in Damascus.
According to the US State Department's report for 2005, Syria is a destination for women trafficked from South and East Asia and Ethiopia for labour exploitation and from Eastern Europe for sexual exploitation. However, there are no official statistics on this issue.
Trafficking in persons is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or abduction, fraud or deception, according to IOM. It could also mean the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.
The US report states that there have been some unconfirmed indications that Iraqi women have been forced into commercial sex work in Syria at the hands of Iraqi criminal networks.
The Syrian government, added the report, does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is now making significant efforts to do so.
“Syria does not have a legal framework governing relations between domestic workers and their employers. It also does not regulate the illegal manpower agencies that bring in and, in some cases, facilitate victims’ exploitation,” the report said.
Mohamed Mattar, a professor of Law at Johns Hopkins University, who contributed to the workshop said that there are some good first steps being taken.
“I am encouraged to learn that Syria will establish a committee to enact a comprehensive law combating trafficking in persons. When adopted by the government it will be the first anti-trafficking legislation in the Arab world.”
He urged that any anti-trafficking legislation must treat the trafficked person as a victim of a crime. “It becomes a form of slavery if you are withholding the travel document of a servant and you are denying the servant’s basic rights and sometimes exploiting servants sexually,” said Mattar.
“Labour law in Arab countries has to be changed to cover domestic service so that domestic servants are entitled to employment benefits and protection.”
The governments of Indonesia and the Philippines banned their citizens from seeking employment in Syria because of abuse and the lack of protection for its citizens, the US report explained.
“The government should appoint a national anti-trafficking coordinator, develop comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation, investigate and prosecute traffickers and manpower agencies that facilitate trafficking, tighten its entertainment visa issuance regime to prevent its exploitation for trafficking, and launch a broad anti-trafficking campaign to educate the general public,“ the report said.
Dr Ibrahim Zuhair al-Darraji, a Professor of International Law at Damascus University, said that laws in favour of domestic servants would be issued soon by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.
Danziger of IOM explained that trafficking is a global problem closely linked to organised crime.
“Trafficking in human beings is one of the three largest criminal activities and sources of funding for organised crime. It is considered a modern form of slavery and most victims come from the poorer countries,” said Danziger.
The size of the problem in the Arab world cannot be defined. “It is difficult to get numbers on this issue in both the Arab world and globally. However, IOM estimates that there are up to 2 million people trafficked worldwide every year,” said Danziger.