#UNHCR; #Conflict; #Insecurity; #Mali; #ChildTrafficking; #NGOs; #Sahel
UNHCR/Canadian-Media: Conflict, insecurity, COVID-19 and deteriorating economic conditions are leading to a rise in trafficking of children, forced labour and forced recruitment by armed groups in Mali, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency is warning today.
Children playing in Gao, Mali, February 2019. Image credit: UNHCR/Mark Henley
More cases of child recruitment were documented in the first half of this year (230 cases) compared to the whole of 2019 (215 cases), according to a report released by the UNHCR-led Global Protection Cluster, a network of UN agencies and NGOs providing protection to people affected by humanitarian crises.
Armed groups are also trafficking children for labour in gold mines, using profits to enrich combatants, fuel the arms trade and finance the violence. Extortionate “taxes” are also imposed on adults operating in those gold mines.
As schools remain closed due to conflict, insecurity, COVID-19 or teachers’ strikes –children are also pushed towards informal gold mines, particularly in Gao and Kidal where many areas are controlled by armed groups.
Rapid child protection assessments found an estimated 6,000 children, disproportionately boys, working across eight mine sites in the country. They are exposed to the worst forms of child labour, economic exploitation, and physical, sexual and psychological abuse.
Some children arrived on the site on “credit” – whereby a third-party finances their transport and food. Others reported having worked days without being paid. The children are forced to work for an unspecified time until they pay off recruitment and travel “debt”.
“As a result of conflict and socio-economic deterioration worsened by the pandemic, we are seeing some of the most egregious human rights violations in the Sahel,” said UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Gillian Triggs.
“Children are being forced to fight by armed groups, trafficked, raped, sold, forced into sexual or domestic servitude, or married off. Many more children are at risk in the Sahel, a region which is becoming the fastest-growing humanitarian crisis in the world.”
Victims are Malian as well as refugees, asylum seekers or migrants.
Reports of communities of women and girls being abducted, sexually assaulted and raped have been received from the Mopti region, where are over 1,000 cases recorded in this area so far in 2020. UNHCR also fears that child marriages will also spiral, in a country where an estimated 53 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18.
Despite the conflict and COVID-19 movement restrictions, Mali continues to be a critical transit country for refugees and migrants attempting to reach northern Africa and Europe.
Some people on the move are trafficked for forced labour in the agricultural sector, others, particularly women are trafficked en route to promised jobs in North Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Others are diverted to Bamako or to mining or agricultural areas where they are forced to engage in survival sex.
The profiles of traffickers and their accomplices range from organized criminal or armed groups, tribal chiefs or state authorities, to sometimes even parents, relatives or community members.
UNHCR continues to urge more support in efforts to prevent and respond to trafficking in persons, to protect those at risk, provide support to victims and ensure perpetrators are brought to justice.
Despite human rights violations, including gender-based violence, trafficking and child recruitment on the rise, a new report released yesterday warns that nearly 40 million internally displaced or conflict-affected people could be missing out on support due to insufficient funding.
According to the report, this year’s funding for protecting people most in need of assistance in humanitarian crises has received just 25 per cent of what is needed.
#California; #US; #OperationCovidChatdown; #USImmigrationAndCustomsAuthorities
Fresno (California), Aug 8 (Canadian-Media): Arrest of 34 men in Fresno, California was made by Operation Covid Chatdown for soliciting sexual acts from 12- or 13-year-old children who were actually undercover law enforcement operatives, United States (US) Immigration and Customs Authorities said.
Operation Covid Chatdown noted that during the undercover operation from July 20 to Aug. 2, 2020, more than 190 online contacts continued to chat even after they knew they were talking to whom they believed was a minor. There were a significant number of instances in which perpetrators also sent sexually explicit images. When the subjects asked the undercover operatives to engage in sexual acts, they were provided an address in Fresno, where they traveled and were subsequently arrested. No real minors were involved in the operation.
“These abhorrent attempts by predators to exploit innocent children for immoral and illegal sexual gratification have no place in American society,” said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) San Francisco (NorCal) Special Agent in Charge Tatum King. “Homeland Security Investigations will relentlessly pursue anyone involved in criminal behavior against children.”
Image credit: Twitter handle
When these 34 men traveled by foot, skateboard, bike, or vehicle to meet 12- and 13-year-old boys and girls, they were met by those who turned out to be law enforcement operatives with badges, guns and handcuffs. It was admitted by a number of the arrested individuals that they had victimizing real children during previous attempts. it was admitted by one man who was HIV positive that he planned to have sex with a 13-year-old child. A range of criminal charges, were laid against the suspects, including state charges for sending harmful material to seduce a minor, as well as possessing, transmission and transportation of child pornography.
Central California Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force was responsible for Operation COVID Chatdown. Formed in 2007, the Central California ICAC Task Force is comprised of 64 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies spread throughout nine counties in the Central Valley. Apart from its dedication to protecting children online, it is also responsible for investigating crimes committed against children, which are facilitated by the Internet and computer usage.
These culprits were brought to justice by HSI agents and criminal analysts exhaustive investigative work, together with HSI’s partners. These arrests were made possible through a joint effort with HSI’s Law Enforcement partners in the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, Multi-Agency Gang Enforcement Consortium (MAGEC), the Police Departments of Clovis, Fresno, Kingsburg, Parlier, San Luis Obispo, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of California, the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office, and the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office.
#Pittsburgh, #US; #OperationTEN; #ICE; HSI; FBI
Pittsburgh, Jul 24 (Canadian-Media): The creation of a new anti-human trafficking coalition, Operation T.E.N. (Trafficking Ends Now), comprised of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies as well as non-governmental organizations was announced on July 22 by United States Attorney for Western District of Pennsylvania, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Pittsburgh, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Pittsburgh.
Operation T.E.N. Facebook Official
Operation T.E.N., an umbrella coalition for the 25 counties in the Western District of Pennsylvania, is a coordinated effort to ending human trafficking through education, improving cooperation among local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.
“Human trafficking is a corrosive and degrading practice that goes against both the rule of law and the most basic standards of human dignity...Operation T.E.N. Coalition, dedicated to ending human trafficking by promoting partnerships with private and public entities,” said David Abbate, Assistant Special Agent in Charge for HSI Pittsburgh in news release. “We are confident...with our victim-centric approach to investigations...and prosecution of suspects.”
“Human trafficking is an affront to human dignity,” said U.S. Attorney Brady in news release. “It is a form of modern-day slavery that knows no race, gender, age or border. Operation T.E.N.’s collaborative approach...ensure that survivors can more easily and directly access the services they need for a healthy, safe recovery.”
“The FBI depends on our partnerships to help us protect communities,” said FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Michael Christman in news release. “We will work with our partners at every level to take those responsible for this heinous crime off our streets. It’s our priority to identify and recover child victims of human trafficking. They are some of the most vulnerable members of our community who have been physically and emotionally abused and don’t see a way out. We want them to know there is a way to start rebuilding their lives and human trafficking will not be tolerated.”
While human trafficking can occur in a variety of scenarios and industries, indicators of trafficking activities often look the same across most cases.
Recognizing key indicators of human trafficking is the first step in identifying a victim and can help save a life. It is often a hidden crime, and victims may be afraid to come forward and get help. It is vital that ICE continue to spread the word and educate the public to be aware of the signs so that victims can be identified, and traffickers brought to justice.
In fiscal year 2019, HSI arrested 2,197 individuals in connection with human trafficking. From those cases, more than 400 trafficking victims were identified and offered critical assistance. The top five locations for human trafficking criminal arrests by ICE were Los Angeles (344), Houston (205), Atlanta (130), Charlotte (125), and Phoenix (124).
Specialists with the agency’s Victim Assistance Program assess a victim’s needs and work with law enforcement to integrate victim assistance considerations throughout a criminal investigation. HSI can also assist a victim in getting a short-term immigration relief called Continued Presence, which is available only upon request by law enforcement. In the absence of other resources, DHS has an emergency assistance fund which is available for emergency victim assistance needs.
Bystanders play a unique role in identifying and preventing this crime. If you notice suspicious activity, please contact ICE through its tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or ice.gov/tips.
#US; #HSI; #ICE; #SexTraffickingOfMinors; #imprisonment
Tampa, Florida (US), Jul 8 (Canadian-Media): A Tampa man was sentenced today to 11 years and three months in federal prison for sex trafficking of minors and was ordered to forfeit a Glock 19 9mm handgun and cellular phone, both of which were used during the commission of the offenses.
This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Image credit: Twitter handle
"Two young girls were saved from a life of human trafficking with this investigation," said HSI Tampa Assistant Special Agent in Charge Michael Cochran. "HSI agents will continue to uncover, dismantle and disrupt human trafficking, around the globe, and right here in our own communities."According to court documents, in May 2019, Luis Berrios-Trinidad, 30, of Tampa, began communicating with undercover law enforcement agents regarding the commercial sex trafficking of underage females. Berrios-Trinidad represented that he had access to girls ranging in age from 14 to 17 years old, and that the price per girl was between $160-180 an hour.
On June 6, 2019, Berrios-Trinidad arranged to bring two underage females to a hotel for a "sex party" with adult men. On that evening, he arrived with two girls, ages 14 and 17. Once inside the hotel room, Berrios-Trinidad was arrested, and the victims were rescued.
The case was prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Middle District Florida Assistant United States Attorney Candace Garcia Rich. Berrios-Trinidad had pleaded guilty January 30, 2020.
This investigation was conducted under HSI's Operation Predator, an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators. Since the launch of Operation Predator in 2003, HSI has arrested more than 25,000 individuals for crimes against children, including the production and distribution of online child exploitation material, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking of children. In fiscal year 2019, more than 3,500 child predators were arrested by HSI special agents under this initiative and more than 1,000 victims identified or rescued.
#ICE; #HSI; #USDeptOfHomelandSecurity; #CityXGuide; #HumanTraficking; #Backpage.com; #SexTrafficking
Dallas (US), Jun 19 (Canadian-Media): Wilhan Martono, 46, was charged in a 28-count federal indictment June 2 after his website CityXGuide.com, a leading source of online advertisements for prostitution and sex trafficking was seized by U.S. Department of Homeland Security, media reports said.
Homeland Security. Image credit: Twitter handle
An investigation was conducted by the special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) assigned to HSI Dallas.
Wilhan Martono was indicted on one count of promotion of prostitution and reckless disregard of sex trafficking, one count of interstate racketeering conspiracy (facilitating prostitution), nine counts of interstate transportation in aid of racketeering (facilitating prostitution), and 17 count s of money laundering.
On June 17, HSI and U.S. Secret Service agents arrested him in Fremont, California.
Shortly after the defendant's arrest, CityXGuide was replaced with a splash page notifying users that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had seized the website pursuant to a warrant.
According to the indictment, Martono allegedly netted more than $21 million from illicit websites promoting prostitution and sex trafficking. He allegedly registered the domain names for several of the sites just one day after the FBI shut down Backpage.com, then the Internet's leading source of prostitution and sex trafficking advertisements.
Martono allegedly concealed his online activity by routing website traffic through an IP address in Europe, using a VPN to mask his IP address while conducting CardCash transactions, and funneling his proceeds through a network of business and personal bank accounts. DHS seized millions of dollars from Martono accounts at the time of his arrest.
CityXGuide, which served clients across the globe, included a list of 14 "Favorite Cities," including Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami and Boston.
Numerous minor victims in CityXGuide advertisements had been identified by Law enforcement, including a 13-year-old Jane Doe rescued in North Texas in November 2019.
"This case is a harsh reminder of the ruthlessness of human traffickers and lengths to which they go, including victimizing women and children, to make a profit," said Ryan L. Spradlin, special agent in charge of HSI Dallas. "HSI maintains its unwavering commitment to investigate these heinous crimes, rescue victims, and prosecute the offenders to the fullest extent of the law."
If convicted, Martono faces up to 25 years in federal prison.
Martono was charged in part under FOSTA, a law passed in the wake of the Backpage scandal in April 2018 that allows the federal government to prosecute websites that facilitate sex trafficking.
The case is being prosecuted by assistant US Attorneys Sid Mody, Rebekah Ricketts and John de la Garza.
#Ontario; #VictimsOfSexTrafficking; #AntiHumanTraffickingStrategy
Ottawa, Jun 16 (Canadian-Media): An investment of up to $46 million by the Ontario government over the next five years is being made to increase supports for community-based and Indigenous-specific child and youth victims of sex trafficking, media reports said.
Sex trafficking. Image credit: Twitter handle
Announced in March 2020, Ontario’s Anti-Human Trafficking Strategy will invest over the next five years $307 million on a comprehensive plan to raise awareness of the issue, protect victims and intervene early, support survivors and punish the offenders. The strategy reflects valuable input from survivors of human trafficking, Indigenous communities and organizations, law enforcement and frontline service providers.
Approximately two-thirds of police-reported human trafficking violations in Canada occur in Ontario and over 70 percent of these are under the age of 25 and 26 per cent are under 18. The average age of recruitment into sex trafficking is 13 years old.
“Our goal is to build a more comprehensive network of anti-human trafficking services across Ontario, so more victims have access to the supports they need.” said Jill Dunlop, Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues.
Funding will be available to partners and agencies and focus on areas such as:
“Human trafficking isn’t just an enforcement issue — it’s a vicious and violent crime that preys on our most vulnerable, robbing them of their health, safety and dignity,” said Sylvia Jones, Solicitor General. "These programs are vital components of Ontario’s comprehensive plan to combat human trafficking, bring traffickers to justice and end this heinous crime.”
Acceptance of applications to the Community Supports Fund and Indigenous-led Initiatives be until 5 p.m. on July 30, 2020.
#IOM; #HumanTrafficking; #NCCHT; #UNODC; #NRM; #HumanRightsReforms
Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), Mar 31 (Canadian-Media): This week, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) joined the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking (NCCHT) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in launching a National Referral Mechanism (NRM) which outlines best practices and pathways for handling cases of trafficking in persons.
Dr Awad Al-Awaad, President of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Commission meets with IOM Director General António Vitorino at the Human Rights Commission Premises in Riyadh to discuss the progress of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in combating Trafficking in Persons. Image credit: IOM
“The project Strengthening Mechanisms to Combat Human Trafficking in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the first IOM project of its kind in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, addressing issues of prevention and protection of trafficking in persons,” said Mohamed El Zarkani, IOM Bahrain’s Chief of Mission, covering the implementation of the project in Saudi Arabia.
“It works in harmony, simultaneously, with a leading UNODC programme focusing on partnership, prosecution, and data management. The collaboration is a welcome and timely step into international collaboration on the subject of trafficking.”
The mechanism is a collaborative framework that helps government officials to coordinate their efforts to better prevent trafficking in persons and protect victims or potential victims of human trafficking in the Kingdom and coordinates the investigation and prosecution of suspected perpetrators.
With an estimated 13 million foreign workers (38.3 per cent of an overall population of 34 million people), this move stands to dramatically improve protection measures for a significant number of people.
Men and women – primarily from South- and Southeast Asia and Africa – voluntarily migrate to Saudi Arabia to work in a variety of sectors, including construction and domestic service. Some workers can become vulnerable to forced labour and other forms of exploitation.
The launch of the NRM marks the Government of Saudi Arabia’s commitment to reaching and protecting the most vulnerable segments of society – including men, women, and children.
“Human trafficking is an affront to the dignity of all humanity,” said Dr. Awwad Alawwad, Chair of the NCCHT.
“It is our duty to eradicate this heinous practice and I am proud to report that the launch of the National Referral Mechanism is a major step to that end. The Mechanism will be complemented by additional human rights reforms which will further improve the quality of life of all citizens and residents of the Kingdom – barring none.”
The NCCHT, in collaboration with the UNODC and IOM, has begun to jointly train key members of the national anti-trafficking team in their respective roles, as well as skills in identification, referral and protection of potential victims.
In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the government is working closely with all parties to ensure that this valuable training continues through the use of teleconferencing. Key staff, including labour inspectors, health professionals, and civil society representatives will learn a number of new skills depending on the roles mandated to them to help identify early warning signs of human trafficking and develop standard operating procedures to guide response staff.
“This ambitious training and capacity building program led by NCCHT for the entire stakeholders nation-wide, and the fact that it continues even during the unfortunate pandemic, reflects only the level of commitment and determination KSA attached to improving national mechanisms and responses to trafficking in persons,” said Dr. Hatem Aly, UNODC Regional Representative for the Gulf countries.
The unveiling of the Mechanism coincides with the launch of an anonymous digital reporting service, embedded in the NCCHT website, for persons with information on possible human-trafficking violations in the Kingdom. The referral service will be expanded to include a 24/7 hotline and mobile application, both of which are currently under development.
IOM’s Mohamed El Zarkani explained: “The launch of the NRM is a key milestone in the fight to combat trafficking in persons in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This move forward, along with a strong programme of training for frontline workers who will implement it, will lead to enhanced protection measures for the most vulnerable, bringing Saudi Arabia amongst the countries leading the fight against this transnational crime.”
#HumanTraffickingAwarenessDay; #ProtectionOfChildren&Women; #HumanTraffickingStrategy
Toronto, Feb 24 (Canadian-Media): Ontario's Premier Doug Ford, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, and Jill Dunlop, Associate Minister of Children and Women's Issues, made the following statement on Feb 22 in recognition of Human Trafficking Awareness Day:
Image credit: Twitter handle of AntiHuman Trafficking
"Today we have a valuable opportunity to raise awareness and continue the fight against human trafficking to protect children and women. This heinous crime robs victims of their dignity and safety, and has a devastating impact on their lives, their families and their communities.
Human traffickers target the most vulnerable in our communities, predominantly young women and girls. Two-thirds of all human trafficking cases in Canada occur in Ontario and the average age of recruitment is 13 years old.
Our government is committed to keeping children and women safe. We are building stronger, safer communities and providing police services with the resources they need to combat this horrible crime. As a result, we are investing $20 million annually to support survivors and to get tough on offenders with anti-human trafficking law enforcement initiatives.
We've heard from survivors, law enforcement, Indigenous communities and frontline service providers. Their insights and perspectives are helping us develop a new province-wide anti-human trafficking strategy that we will launch in the coming weeks.
As parents ourselves, ending human trafficking remains a top priority for our government as we work to keep communities and families safe. We will continue the fight against human trafficking, and work towards a day where everyone can live free from exploitation and violence."
#YorkRegionalPoliceHumanTraffickingTeamInvestigators; #humantrafficking; #AlexanderRoberts; #YorkRegionalPolice; #HumanTraffickingInvestigation
York Region, May 7 (Canadian-Media): A 20-year-old man, Alexander Roberts, from the City of Toronto had been charged by York Regional Police Human Trafficking Team investigators, in connection with several offences related to the human trafficking of female victims under the age of 18, media reports said.
Alexander Roberts/Courtesy of York Region Police
An investigation began into a suspected pimp, on Tuesday April 3, 2018, believed to be trafficking teenage victims under the age of 18.
It was believed by the investigators that the accused who was active online on a number of social media sites, may be using his accounts to find his victims.
On April 26, 2018, the accused was charged with several offences related to human trafficking.
After locating two teenage female victims, the investigators have released a photo of the accused and are encouraging any additional victims to come forward.
The accused had been charged with Trafficking in Persons Under the Age of 18, Procuring-Person Under 18; Exercise Control, Direction or Influence Over Person Under 18; Possession of Child Pornography x2; Distribution of Child Pornography x2; Advertise Sexual Services x2; Material Benefit Resulting From Trafficking in Persons Under 18; Material Benefit From Sexual Services Provided by Person Under 18; Assault; Fail to comply with Conditions of Recognizance x2
#humantraffickinginOntario, #restrainingorder, #OntarioCourtofJustice, #Anti-HumanTraffickingAct
Ottawa, May 5 (Canadian-Media): Ontario had launched May 4, a new pilot program, a first of its kind in Canada to assist survivors of human trafficking escape exploitation and violence by providing free legal supports, media reports said.
Up to $72 million has been invested by Ontario for this cause to increase awareness, increase initiatives for justice and improve survivors' access to services.
“Human trafficking has a devastating impact on survivors and their families. We are committed to ensuring people in Ontario have the support and legal options they need to protect themselves as they rebuild their lives. Free legal representation is an important step in this journey for survivors to have peace of mind,” said Yasir Naqvi, Attorney General and Ontario Government Attorney Leader.
Yasir Naqvi. Image credit: Facebook Page
Survivors of human trafficking and those at risk of getting restraining order -- an important legal tool in protecting survivors and individuals at risk of being trafficked from the threat of exploitation and violence -- would reportedly be provided, effective May 1, free legal support and confidential legal advice by a team of specialized lawyers to help them complete restraining order application and represent their hearings in any Ontario Court of Justice.
In addition, a new type of human trafficking-specific restraining order, created under the Anti-Human Trafficking Act is now in effect to help protect survivors and the safety of those around them which does not require notifying the trafficker in advance.
The program is available province wide, by phone or in person.
“It is critical that survivors of human trafficking have access to the services and support that they need. This program ensures that individuals in every community can access free and confidential legal advice, no matter where they are in the province,” Harinder Malhi, Ontario Minister of the Status of Women said.
Harinder Malhi. Image credit: LinkedIn
"We have heard from our partners on the front-lines that traffickers often pursue survivors when they try to leave and seek safety. This new program will make an important difference in the lives of those being targeted and their families, by providing meaningful legal recourse to use against those who seek to exploit them, ” Michael Coteau, Ontario Minister of Community and Social Services
Reporting by Asha Bajaj