Tag Archives: trafficking

Send a letter to your MP today for a victim-centred bill!

Dear Supporters of our joint #StopTraffickignSG campaign, please send the letter below to your MP to ask her/him to support the key recommendations identified by the #StopTraffickingSG coalition for a victim-centric bill.

The 2nd reading of the bill is scheduled for 3 November 2014. This short window of opportunity between now to next Monday is crucial to making the anti-trafficking bill an effective one in protecting the needs of trafficked victims so that they are empowered to report and testify against their traffickers.

Please send the letter today, if you can.

The Letter

Dear [name of MP],

My name is [name] and I am a constituent in [name of constituency]. I am writing to ask you, as my elected representative, to support StopTraffickingSG!’s campaign recommendations when the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill, which MP Christopher de Souza has tabled, is discussed in Parliament in early November.

The StopTraffickingSg campaign advocates for the inclusion of victims’ rights in the proposed bill. Its three core recommendations are that

Victims have the right to accommodation, food, counseling services, legal aid, medical treatment, compensation and social support while their case is ongoing.
Victims are not prosecuted for being an undocumented immigrant or for working ‘illegally’ or for any illegal immigration infractions inadvertently committed while being trafficked; and
Victims have the right to work and a decent income while their case is ongoing.
Ultimately, in order to combat trafficking in persons, we should be empowering victims of trafficking to report their own cases. Currently, the fear of reprisal from immigration authorities, police officers, and their traffickers, discourage trafficked victims from reporting their cases directly to the police. victims do not make police reports because they are afraid of the reprisals they stand to face from immigration authorities, police officers, and their traffickers.

Moreover, as a constituent, I want to express my concern about the huge extension of discretionary powers to police and non-police enforcement officers. These powers allow such officers to arrest and forcibly gain entry to premises without warrant, and to be armed with batons and accoutrements “as are necessary”. Trafficking raids are extremely violent and may result in the secondary traumatisation of vulnerable trafficking victims. They are also counterproductive as traumatised and disempowered trafficking victims are actually less likely to contribute to successful prosecutions of traffickers.

As you know, Singapore is currently classified as a Tier 2 country in the US government’s trafficking watch list. This means that while Singapore has made efforts to comply with its minimum standards for protecting victims of human trafficking, but has not yet met those standards. I believe that Singapore could do more to protect such vulnerable people, and that the recommendations provided by StopTraffickingSG! are clear and straightforward.

Thank you for reading this letter and addressing my concerns as a constituent. I look forward to hearing your response.

Best Regards

[Name]

Empowering foreign workers to report Human Trafficking Crimes

#StoptraffickingSG Press Conference

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Yesterday’s press conference presenting #StoptraffickingSG’s reaction to the proposed Bill, and the discussion afterwards, provided an unique opportunity to hear the combined voice of six influential Singapore’s NGO’s. What was their message? That without a clearly defined victim-centred approach, this Bill that aims to combat human trafficking, will not be effective.

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HOME’s Jolovan Wham kicked off, by giving an in-depth explanation of the joint campaign’s point of view on the proposed Bill. He stressed that one of the most important rights that victims of Human Trafficking need, is the right to work during on-going investigations. In many cases seen at HOME, foreign workers ask ‘can I work if I file the complaint?’ When the answer is negative, many decide not to proceed with the case. They simply cannot afford to, as they have a family to feed. In HOME’s experience, investigations can take up to two years, or more, to be concluded. In that time the foreign worker is often completely dependent on charity, being fed, housed and cared for by NGO’s that receive no government funding.

Another important right that foreign workers need is the one not to be prosecuted themselves. Traffickers are very much aware of the fear that foreign workers have for the authorities, and use this effectively to deter them from filing complaints. According to Jolovan Wham, employers will threaten: ‘If you file a case against me, you will go to jail yourself, or get the cane.’

These examples aim to show that the Bill should not be just about the prosecution of perpetrators, but about incentivising victims to come forward.

This point was further stressed by Vanessa Ho from Project X, who not long ago witnessed a raid on suspected traffickers in the sex industry. A large group of police officers, armed with batons and tasers, surrounded the area and rounded up suspects in a loud and violent way. Raid likes these are known to cause secondary trauma to victims. As Vanessa put it ‘it is important to empower foreign workers to report crimes, rather than to break down doors to find them.’

Maruah president Braema Mathi added that the Bill makes a mention of the word decency, and asked whether raids like this, which are violent and often rather public, could be considered decent when it comes to safeguarding the victims? She was relieved to see that not only sex work, but also forced labour has been mentioned in the proposed Bill, but stressed that many points in the Bill need more clarification, before there can be any way of knowing whether this Bill will be good enough.

Campaign leader Peck Hoon Tam explained how the Bill seems biased towards victims of sex labour, just like many people think of ‘the perfect victim’ of human trafficking, a girl deceived and forced into prostitution. Reality is much more complicated, and in Singapore often concerns forced labour or domestic workers. It is important that the Bill reflects reality.

Outreach to foreign workers, by means of NGO’s and hotlines to make foreign workers aware of their rights, is an effective way to get victims of trafficking to step forward, especially if the government provides them with shelter, the right to work and protection from prosecution.

Vivienne Wee from AWARE spoke about the issue of deception, and the root cause of trafficking in persons: the profit that the trafficker makes. It needs to be clear that profit is not always a direct payment, but can also refer to other ways in which the trafficker profits. These can be illegitimate salary deductions, non-payment of salary or many others.

Another important issue that was stressed by many of the NGO’s is that while the Bill focuses solely on Singapore, human trafficking is in fact an international problem. John Gee from TWC2 explained that human trafficking is an on-going process, and usually not committed by one person but by a chain of people that crosses borders. The end user is complicit as well as the recruiter.

International aspects also need to be addressed when victims of human trafficking go back to their home countries. Someone may wait for them on their return, their families may be threatened, and victims that are in debt are often re-trafficked.

All NGO’s present agreed that key terms in the proposed Bill, like ‘forced labour’ and ‘deception’, are not defined clearly, and that it must be made clear which indicators will be used in identifying potential victims of trafficking.

HOME hopes that the debate in Parliament will further clarify all issues mentioned, and that the representatives of the press present at the meeting will help raise questions in Singapore society.

Campaigning for victims’ rights: #StopTraffickingSG

Trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a violation of human rights. Every year men, women and children are deceived or coerced into leaving their homes and moving to Singapore only to end up in jobs and working conditions they did not expect. However, even after discovering that they have been deceived, many of them find it difficult to leave because of huge debts they own to recruiters, or because they face nothing but poverty in their home countries. These men, women and children may also be physically, psychologically, and sexually abused, and have to work long hours with inadequate rest. They may also be verbally abused or threatened by their employers and recruiters.

A few months ago Singaporean MP Mr Christopher De Souza proposed to draft a Private Member’s Bill dedicated to combating human trafficking. HOME was present at public consulations held The aim is to present the Bill in parliament in November 2014. HOME welcomes the new Bill, and hopes it will be a significant step in combating human trafficking in Singapore.

HOME, together with other Singaporean Non-Governmental Organisations AWARE, TWC2, Healthserve and MARUAH has organised the StopTraffickingSG Campaign, which will run from now until the presentation of the Bill in Parliament.

The StopTraffickingSG campaign aims to create more awareness on Human Trafficking issues in Singapore, and to urge the government to adopt a victim-centred approach in the drafting of the Bill on Prevention of Human Trafficking. The campaign organisers feel that without this, the Bill will not be sufficiently effective in combating Human Trafficking.

StopTrafficking SG recommends the following to be considered:

  1. Victims have the right to accommodation, food, counselling services, legal aid, medical treatment, compensation and social support while their case is on-going.
  1. Victims are not prosecuted for being an undocumented immigrant or for working ‘illegally’ or for any illegal immigration infractions inadvertently committed while being trafficked. 
  1. Victims have the right to work and a decent income while their case is on-going.

Victim’s rights need to be taken into consideration to ensure detection and prosecution of traffickers and trafficking-related crimes. If not, many victims will opt to return to their home countries without making a formal complaint to the authorities, rendering the Bill ineffective.

At the moment, trafficked victims are often reluctant to file complaints and claim justice. Investigations and legal proceedings may take several months or even up to two years before being resolved, during which time the victims are obliged to remain in Singapore. It is not guaranteed they will have the option to work during investigations, and many, being the breadwinners of their families, can simply not afford to stay to file a complaint. Sometimes victims are even prosecuted for being undocumented immigrants, or for working illegally, often unknowingly and due to the actions of their traffickers. The victim’s fear for the authorities stops them from seeking help.

Inclusion of victim’s rights will also align Singapore’s laws with international standards. A clear framework to protect victims of trafficking in Singapore strengthens relations with our neighbours, who are the main source countries of victims trafficked through and to Singapore.

Guaranteeing the  victims’ safety, livelihood and sustenance in the Bill will give victims of Human Trafficking the incentive to report, identify and testify against perpetrators. This will aid the effective prosecution of employers and recruiters involved in trafficking persons into Singapore, and in turn assist the destruction of trafficking syndicates as well as bring justice to victims and reduce crimes that threaten the security of Singapore.

Visit the Campaign website, for updates and Human Trafficking Stories: http://stoptraffickingsg.wordpress.com/

Or find StopTraffickingSG on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Stoptraffickingsg

Please sign our Petition for the comprehensive protection of the rights of Trafficked Persons in Singapore. Everyone with a valid address in Singapore is eligible to sign, regardless of nationality.

Read here HOME’s full response to the proposed Bill: Position Paper on the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill,

Want to learn more about what Human Trafficking is? Check out these websites with useful information:

United Nations

www.humantrafficking.org 

HOME through the eyes of an intern

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By Arjuna s/o Segathesan

Arjuna was an intern at HOME in May and June 2014.

Today is my last day at HOME. The past month has been an unparalleled eye-opening experience. Under the constant guidance of the HOME staff, I have learnt much about the plight of migrant workers in Singapore. Interacting with migrant workers, I have discovered how different their lives are from the general public’s perception about them. In my time here, I have noticed that one issue keeps cropping up in all the cases that HOME encounters – the vulnerability of migrant workers.

The workers that seek help at HOME generally come from less developed Asian countries. They are often born into poor families and are drawn to Singapore’s wealth and job opportunities. These workers are seldom prepared for the harsh working conditions that they are subjected to in Singapore. Also, many workers become victims to trafficking.

I had the opportunity to interview Selvan and Kalai (the workers featured in the story ‘Deported, not Protected’).  Their story affected me in a deep personal level. These were workers who were just about my age and yet their lives had turned out to be so different from mine.

Selvan and Kalai, like many other workers who come to Singapore, were greatly disadvantaged by their poverty and lack of familiarity with English. Eager to secure jobs in Singapore to provide a better life for their families, these workers are easily deceived into paying exorbitant recruiment fees to agents, which then render them more susceptible to coercion, forced labour and debt bondage. For example, many workers are forced to sign substitute contracts with less favourable terms, sometimes without seeing the contract in their own language. The workers rely on the information provided by employers and recruiters, and often have limited knowledge of their legal rights. In many cases, these vulnerabilities lead to exploitation by recruitment agents and employers, both in the workers’ home countries and in Singapore.

I am heartened that organisations such as HOME assist workers in Singapore. It is also promising that the proposed anti-trafficking bill seeks to protect migrant workers from becoming victims of trafficking. However, more should be done. It is crucial that the proposed anti-trafficking bill adequately protects vulnerable migrant workers from debt bondage, forced labour and exploitation. Only then will unscrupulous agents and employers be forced examine their recruitment practices and stop exploiting vulnerable migrant workers for profit.

Singapore must do more to combat human trafficking: US TIP Report

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Every year, the U.S. Department of State releases a report on trafficking in persons across the globe. The 2014 report ranks Singapore as a Tier 2 country for the fourth consecutive year, as “[t]he Government of Singapore does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking however, it is making significant efforts to do so”. 

The 2014 report highlights the need for Singapore to do more to protect the rights of victims of trafficking. It recommends the introduction of a legally mandated victim-centered approach to investigating and prosecuting trafficking offences, providing protections to victims regardless of whether the case results in a prosecution, and increasing support to organisations assisting victims of trafficking. 

This is HOME’s response to the 2014 report:

Response to US Department of State’s trafficking in persons report

HOME agrees with the issues raised in the TIP report and the State Department’s Tier 2 ranking is correct. The Singapore government has started to take trafficking more seriously and this is a positive sign.

However, measures which ensure the rights of trafficked victims fall short of internationally recognised standards and those of other developed nations. For example, the right to decent work, compensation, legal aid, psychological and social support services is not guaranteed.

We are also deeply concerned that trafficked victims are being penalised for immigration and work related offences. Without an effective victim protection system, it is highly unlikely that trafficked migrants will file complaints and cooperate with the authorities.

Policies which encourage trafficking and forced labour, such as restrictions to job mobility, and the $5k security bond need to be abolished. We are also deeply concerned that trafficked victims are being penalised for immigration and work related offences.

The report mentioned  disagreement between the government and civil society on whether specific cases amounted to trafficking. Indeed, HOME has referred such cases which were rejected by the government, even though our interviews revealed strong trafficking indicators. However, the reasons for not classifying such cases as trafficking are rarely disclosed. Greater collaboration and exchange of information between the government and civil society organisations is needed so that trafficked victims can be more effectively assisted and perpetrators brought to justice.

The 2014 report was released last week. You can read it here:
http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/226848.pdf