Press Release —Local February 19, 2020

IOM Launches Media Campaign to Combat Human Trafficking in Sri Lanka

A still from one of the campaign videos which highlight trafficking from rural areas to the cities for sexual exploitation.

A still from one of the campaign videos which highlight trafficking from rural areas to the cities for labour exploitation.

Colombo – The challenges posed by human trafficking in this South Asian island nation, where over 200,000 people migrate to work abroad each year, are daunting.

Since 2017, IOM Sri Lanka has assisted over 90 victims of trafficking and vulnerable migrants through victim assistance grants. It also operates a hotline to assist victims, refer cases and provide information on human trafficking.

Now IOM, in partnership with Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Justice, Human Rights and Legal Reforms, has launched a public information campaign funded by the US State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons to combat human trafficking.

The new campaign follows nearly two decades of IOM support for Sri Lankan government efforts to address the scourge of human trafficking.

The majority of cases IOM Sri Lanka comes across have been subjected to labour exploitation in the Middle East, particularly in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Oman. Most victims migrate for employment as domestic workers. But there have been also instances where men have been subjected to labour exploitation in Singapore and Malaysia in the construction sector. In 2018, 12 Sri Lankan fishermen were trafficked to Somaliland where authorities, in collaboration with IOM, rescued them.

Trafficking in persons is now a punishable crime under the country’s Penal Code and Sri Lanka ratified the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons – particularly of Women and Children – in 2015. The country’s National Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force comprises 18 government agencies led by the Ministry of Justice.

Speaking at the launch of the campaign, Additional Secretary of the Ministry Piyumanthi Peiris said that MoJ would continue to collaborate with stakeholders to address counter trafficking initiatives in Sri Lanka. She also stated her belief that through awareness raising campaigns such as these, victims of human trafficking would be motivated to come forward, and society would be better equipped to report crimes of human trafficking. Sri Lanka’s National Strategic Action Plan to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking sees raising public awareness as key. As part of the new campaign, IOM will help the Ministry of Justice to produce TV and radio ads to alert people to sexual and labour exploitation. IOM has produced TV and Radio advertisements highlighting trafficking from rural areas to the cities for sexual exploitation and trafficking for labour exploitation across the borders.

Awareness will also be raised through street theatre, billboards and other visibility materials to reach out at the grassroots level.

According to IOM Sri Lanka Chief of Mission Sarat Dash, the campaign will need to engage with Sri Lankan society as a whole. “The complexity of the crime, difficulty in identifying victims, challenges in prosecuting perpetrators and the ever-changing nature of the crime itself, requires a collective response from the government, civil society and a broad range of stakeholders,” he said.

Reaffirming the United States’ commitment towards combatting human trafficking, Anthony Renzulli – Chief Political Officer, US Embassy in Colombo, said “We must stop trafficking at its source and hold traffickers accountable; we must urge governments to implement their laws by building effective delivery systems of justice and protection; and we must proactively identify and provide needed services to survivors. If we are to accomplish all of these things, we must continue to refine our efforts and focus on impact.”

Previous IOM Sri Lanka counter trafficking initiatives have included the establishment of ‘District Anti-Trafficking Forums’ in seven districts that reach out to communities to identify and assist victims. These forums bring together local government officers with civil society and community members to discuss issues, identify cases and build referral mechanisms.

For more information, please contact Minoli Don at IOM Colombo, Tel.: +94 11 211 2600, Email: mdon@iom.int