U.S. urges Turkey to step up fight against human trafficking

U.S. urges Turkey to step up fight against human trafficking

U.S. urges Turkey to step up fight against human trafficking

Syrian refugee girls walk past past a public toilet as they go to kindergarten at a refugee camp in Osmaniye, Turkey, May 17, 2016 - REUTERS photo

The United States Department of State has released its 2016 report on Trafficking in Persons (TIP), where it classified Turkey as a country making significant efforts in the fight against smuggling, urging Ankara to step up measures especially to prevent vulnerable groups from being subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor. 

“We want to bring to the public’s attention the full nature and scope of the $150 billion illicit human trafficking industry,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in his statement published as part of the report, underlining there was “nothing inevitable about trafficking in human beings.”

Prepared by state department employees after a year-long process, the report summarized the state of human trafficking across the world and categorized states with respect to the progress they have made or are likely to make in the near future.

According to the report, Turkey was placed among second-tier countries, which included countries like Croatia, Greece and Singapore, in addition to others like Bangladesh, Cambodia and Nigeria. 

Tier 2 corresponds to countries with governments which do not fully meet the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) but are nonetheless making notable progress to meet those standards, the state department said. 

According to this year’s TIP report, Turkey stood out as a destination and transit country, rather than a source country, for sex trafficking and forced labor where most victims were from Central and South Asia, Eastern Europe, Syria and Morocco. It noted, however, that Turkish women and transgender persons were also vulnerable to trafficking, the latter also suffering from alleged discrimination by state authorities. 

The report underlined that displaced persons from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran were particularly vulnerable to trafficking in Turkey, especially as most of them lack legal access to the job market. 

“Traffickers increasingly use psychological coercion, threats and debt bondage to compel victims into sex trafficking,” reports both from Turkey’s government and Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) noted, highlighting the importance of issuing work permits to refugees and asylum-seekers while acknowledging a January regulation which established a work permit regime for Syrians under the temporary protection regime. 

“An increasing number of Syrian refugee children engage in street begging and also work in restaurants, textile factories, markets, mechanic or blacksmith shops and agriculture, at times acting as the breadwinners for their families; some are vulnerable to forced labor,” the report said, adding Syrian women and girls were vulnerable to sex trafficking, also those run by extremist groups. 

“Some Syrian girls have been reportedly sold into marriages with Turkish men, in which they are highly vulnerable to domestic servitude or sex trafficking,” it stated. 

According to the report, women who were forcefully married to extremist fighters were later compelled to join the ranks of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria. 

The TIP report also mentioned the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and quoted reports claiming youth were sometimes pushed to join the militant organization. 

While taking note of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s efforts to tackle the problem, the report said the country’s anti-trafficking action plan, which dates back to 2009, needed to be updated and funding needed to be provided to operate shelters and protective services for victims of trafficking.