THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Hello. I’m Bryce Johnson. Welcome to the Foreign Press Center’s videoconference briefing on the release of the 20th Annual Trafficking in Persons Report. The meeting host will now mute all journalists’ microphones. Please keep your microphone muted until you are called on to ask a question. If possible, once again, please rename yourself to display your name, outlet, and the country of your outlet. My colleagues will also be renaming journalists using the RSVP information we’ve received. Journalists with names and outlets listed will be prioritized in the question and answer, and FPC journalists will be called on primarily. You may record the briefing by clicking on the “record” button on the menu at the bottom of the Zoom screen, and we will also be sending out transcripts of the briefing along with posting the video on our website, FPC – or fpc.state.gov. If you have technical problems during the briefing, you can use the chat feature and the meeting host or one of my FPC colleagues will try to assist. If the Zoom session fails or disconnects, everyone can please click on the link again to rejoin, and our ground rules is that this is on the record.
Now I’d like to introduce and thank our briefer for being here. Ambassador John Cotton Richmond serves as the United States ambassador at large to monitor and combat trafficking in persons and leads the department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. In October 2018, the Senate unanimously confirmed him and President Trump appointed him to lead United States global engagement to combat human trafficking and support the coordination of anti-trafficking efforts across the U.S. Government. Ambassador Richmond comes to the highest position in the federal government dedicated to combating human trafficking after a distinguished career in the global battle for freedom.
So once again, thank you for being here, Ambassador. I’m going to allow you to make your opening statement and then I will open to a moderated Q&A session.
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: Well, thank you very much. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to talk with you all today. Just about an hour ago, the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released the 20th Annual Trafficking in Persons Report. We’re incredibly excited about what this report stands for, particularly on this, the 20th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Palermo Protocol, which is one of the most widely adopted international legal instruments that we have.
So we’re excited about this. The TIP Report continues to be the gold standard of information about human trafficking around the world. It provides the narrative of 188 countries, looking about how those countries are doing around the 3 Ps: prosecution, protection, and prevention. It also includes some recommendations about how governments can do better. We include a ranking and narrative for the United States as well about things we need to do better as we move forward in our common goal to pursue freedom for people. So the report’s authoritative, the report isn’t just a diagnostic tool, and it’s a report that’s made a difference over the years. We’ve definitely seen countries improve and make impact based on the TIP Report and its guidance.
A couple thoughts just as you’re consuming the TIP Report today and thinking about how to write about it, what you might want to write about. I would note that the report has a ratings period – that is, the period of time in which we’re gathering information runs from April 1st to March 31st each year, and so it’s the government’s activities during that year period that are being evaluated for the purpose of the TIP Report.
Another thing that’s important to keep in mind is that the TIP Report does not compare one country to another country. Instead, it compares a country’s efforts during the reporting period to its efforts in the prior reporting period, so it’s measuring countries against itself. So we don’t take a country of Tier 2 in one region and compare it to a Tier 2 country in another region and expect to see the same things. It’s really a question of are there increasing efforts, are we seeing sustainable progress as we go forward, and I think that will help you read and appreciate the work of the TIP report.
A couple of key things this year: We saw 23 downgrades and 22 upgrades compared to the previous year. We’ve also seen 14 countries received upgrades from the Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 2, and so we’ve got a fair amount of action in the report in terms of movement within the tier structure.
I would like to highlight that we’ve had the first country in Africa to achieve a Tier 1 ranking since 2012. Namibia is the country and we congratulate them for their efforts. We commend the government for its work to improve. And I also just want to note that it’s a huge part of what the State Department’s been working on for many years and through our diplomacy in action, through our investment of foreign assistance to assist the government there, and so I think it’s a good indicator towards progress.
Something new in this year’s TIP Report is that Congress and President Trump signed into law on – in January 2019 a new provision of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to sharpen our focus on state-sanctioned forced labor. It – the new law required wherever there’s a government policy or pattern of human trafficking, those countries must be ranked on Tier 3. When I say a government policy or pattern, we’re thinking and looking for information where it’s not just that governments are supposed to protect individuals from being – from criminals who might traffic them in their country, but the government shifts into the role of the trafficker itself and the government is actually trafficking people, forcing them to work. Ten countries were listed by the Secretary of State as having a government policy or pattern of trafficking, and those 10 countries are all on Tier 3 this year.
And also I’d just like to note that the TIP Report also highlights 10 heroes from around the world, and please take time to read about their good work and their biographies. I think that is a bright spot. We want to definitely celebrate the people who are doing this work.
Another thing to look for as you’re reading the TIP Report is a concern that we’re seeing around the world where governments are offering suspended sentences to traffickers, traffickers that they have actually convicted. And the problem here is that if an individual actor duly being convicted of trafficking walks out the front door of the courthouse, the victims lose hope that they’ll be restrained. The victims continue to worry that the traffickers might menace them in the future and it doesn’t encourage anyone else to come forward if they know the system is just going to let the traffickers out with a suspended sentence. So we’re looking at that as well this year.
Also would just like you to note that the team at the State Department has worked tirelessly to produce this report, and particularly in the office that I get to lead and serve, which is the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, have produced this significant report in the midst of this global pandemic. And I think that that work itself is evidence that this administration is prioritizing trafficking.
So with that as top, I look forward to your questions and a conversation about these issues.
MODERATOR: All right, thank you once again, Ambassador. To ask a question, please click on the raise-hand button at the bottom of the participant list and I’ll call on you. Please make sure that your name and outlet is shown in the participant list. Otherwise, rename yourself. We will be taking questions from FPC-credentialed journalists, and if you have any follow-up questions you can reach out to DCFPC@state.gov and we’ll help you answer any of those. If you dialed in as a telephone call, you can unmute by pressing *6 on your dial pad when I call on you. If you would like, please remember to turn on your video for the camera.
All right. I’m going to start off. I see we have a question from Ben Marks with NHK Japan. All right, one sec.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you, Ambassador Richmond for holding this briefing. My question is: Last year Japan was a Tier 1 country. In this year’s report they’re in Tier 2. What changed that caused Japan to be dropped to Tier 2? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: I appreciate you asking the question. A couple thoughts about Japan and what it means to be on Tier 1: The first thing I’d say is Tier 1 does not mean a country’s doing everything right, it means they’re making serious and sustained efforts over time. And we look at – that has to occur every single year. We want to see growth. I’ll note that a number of countries have fallen off of Tier 1 in the last several years, including Ireland, Germany, Italy, Slovakia – a whole number, including Japan this year. The Government of Japan did not meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in person – trafficking in persons, but it did make significant efforts to do so. However, the efforts that we were able to gather were not serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period, and therefore Japan was downgraded to Tier 2.
I think it’d be helpful to note that Japan investigated, prosecuted, and convicted fewer traffickers than they did in the previous year. They also imprisoned fewer traffickers than they did in the previous year. The authorities continue to prosecute and convict traffickers under laws other than their trafficking law that carry lesser sentences, which is a concern of undercharging. And they offered a significant number of suspended sentences, so traffickers did not actually go to jail and – were not help accountable even after they were duly convicted, which was the issue of suspended sentences I mentioned earlier in my opening remarks.
Those are some of the reasons. If you have time to actually read the narrative as well – and I know it just came out today – but if you can read through the narrative, it will highlight each of the concerns under the prosecution section, the protection section where we’re thinking about identifying victims and making sure they get services, as well as the prevention section – what can we do, how do we dismantle systems that make it easier for traffickers to operate?
And so I think there’s a great deal of work to be done in Japan. Specifically I’d like to highlight the Technical Intern Training Program that has been a concern in Japan for many, many years about forced labor within that program. And there have been calls for the Government of Japan to increase its investigations, increase its work in that area, and I think that is an area of growth for them. I think that is the area where they can do more.
MODERATOR: All right, thank you. All right, our next question comes from Alex Raufoglu from Turan News Agency. Alex, please ask your question.
QUESTION: Sure. Thank you, Bryce, I appreciate it. Ambassador, thank you for being here and for making yourself available. It’s a significant document – indeed, I appreciate that. Probably the most confusing thing for a lot of people in my part of the world is the tier status, so can you please explain a little bit further what is the difference between Tier 2 and Tier 2 Watch List? And can they come with the U.S. restrictions of aid? I’m asking because I represent Azerbaijan’s independent news agency Turan, and Azerbaijan was listed on the Tier 2 Watch List. And my understanding is that a country that – can only remain on a watch list I think two years in a row before being either upgraded or downgraded. Is that the case? And if you were to pinpoint where the greatest needs are in Azerbaijan, what would they be? I appreciate the opportunity.
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: Let me start with – with, I believe, your first portion of the question is like what do the different tier rankings mean. And so again, if – Tier 1 means people are making serious and sustained efforts to meet the minimum standards outlined. So there are four minimum standards. The first three are about having a legal framework in place that is effective, so that’s minimum standards one, two, and three. They’re listed in the front of the TIP report, so you’re welcome to read through those. The fourth minimum standard is broken up into a number of sub-parts, and it’s all about implementation. So if the first three minimum standards are about what the law is, the fourth minimum standard is: Is the law being applied? Is it being applied in a variety of settings? And – whether it’s are we looking at complicity with officials, are we looking at demand reduction, are we looking at prosecutions, investigations, and so on.
So based on those four minimum standards, we gather information which primarily comes from the government itself, and liaisoning with our embassies around the world, we pull together that information and look to see: Are they making increasing efforts? Are they making serious and sustained efforts from the prior reporting period? And if they were on Tier 2 and they did not, they would fall to Tier 2 Watch List. If they did improve, they would go up. And so it’s just a question of four sets: 1, 2, 2 Watch List, and 3.
You’re absolutely right that there are some restrictions about how long a country can remain on the Tier 2 Watch List. Those changes happened in 2008. So before 2008, you could stay on the Tier 2 Watch List as long as you like. In 2008, there was an amendment to the law that said you could stay on a maximum of four years on the Tier 2 Watch List, and the last two years, you had to get a waiver from the secretary of state in order to remain.
So that was changed again in 2019 when it became a maximum of three years on the Tier 2 Watch List and that last year, the third year, you have to get a waiver from the secretary. So you’re right. To get on the Watch List, you can do it for two years, and then the third has to have a waiver from the secretary.
There are no financial restrictions attached to being on the Tier 2 Watch List. There’s no sort of stick to that. It’s just where things are. However, on Tier 3, that does trigger restrictions. It triggers restrictions of all non-humanitarian, non-trade-based aid to a country. Those restrictions are limited to money that is given directly to the countries, not to civil society organizations in the country.
Those restrictions can be waived by the president, and traditionally, the presidents using this law have generously given waivers, and that changed in 2018 when President Trump gave far fewer waivers as a way to try and put some teeth into the law, to try and help countries make this – take this issue more seriously. So for the last two years, we’ve seen a fewer number of countries get full or partial waivers of those restrictions.
So the only tier, to answer your question, that has any sort of financial restriction to it is the Tier 3, the last, the bottom tier. Does that answer your question about the tiering?
QUESTION: I have one question left about Azerbaijan: Do you have any – where are the greatest needs in Azerbaijan? It’s a country that has been the same, at least a second year.
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: Hold on one second, let me pull up some information about Azerbaijan.
MODERATOR: I want to remind everyone that any follow-up questions or more in-depth questions you can email the email@example.com, and if the ambassador needs more time, I can be sure that his office gets it and is able to respond in depth. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: I’ll tell you what. Why don’t we go to another question, then can we circle back and come back to the Azerbaijan question?
MODERATOR: Absolutely. All right. It looks like we have a question from – and forgive me for my pronunciation – Mushfiqul Fazal from Just News BD in Bangladesh. Please ask your question.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Thank you, Ambassador Richmond, for this wonderful briefing, and thanks for your effort to – for this wonderful work. And I want to ask about Bangladesh. The – Bangladesh last year was Tier 2 and still, I believe, the Bangladesh is in Tier 2.
But the country situation is alarming in terms of human trafficking. You mentioned the end of the last month in Libya, 35 Bangladeshi people died, and Libyan human traffickers set out a group of migrants – that is, 35 Bangladeshi people died in Libya. And in the – the reason I am telling, a Bangladeshi lawmaker – member of parliament – his wife also member of parliament – this – the member of parliament, Shahid Islam, arrested in Kuwait for his alleged involvement in human trafficking and money laundering, official confirmed on June 7th. And Transparency International, TIB, has (inaudible) as an alleged involvement of a lawmaker in human trafficking and money laundering is a just – a just disrespectful example of mischief in Bangladesh politics and public representation.
I mean, the policy – the parliament member, they are also involved in human trafficking and current regime is very much reluctant on that issue. So how you would describe this situation, particularly on Bangladesh, Ambassador Richmond?
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: Glad you asked about that, and interestingly, Bangladesh was on the Tier 2 Watch List for the last several years. And so this year, Bangladesh actually moved up to Tier 2. Bangladesh is a complicated place, as you know, and there’s many different aspects of trafficking that are going on there. We’ve had a number of concerns of what we’ve seen.
First, let me start with some positives. They finally, after several years, established tribunals – courts that are specifically focused on trafficking in persons. We thought that was a positive. They also increased the number of victims that they identified since the last reporting period. And they convicted far more traffickers than they have in prior years, and we saw these as serious and sustained efforts that would warrant an upgrade.
But I do want to be clear. Although they had some increases in convictions, they had a decrease in the number of investigations. There are massive reports of complicity of government officials involved in trafficking. And one of my particular concerns is that they are taking very little efforts to do any sex trafficking investigations in the brothels in the capital, and they are some of the largest brothels in the world. We are deeply concerned about sex trafficking within those brothels and call upon the government to increase its investigations. We’ve heard lots of claims both of adults who are coerced into sex trafficking as well as minors where coercion isn’t even a question. If there’s a minor there, we know it’s sex trafficking.
There’s also many, many Bangladesh citizens have been identified as forced labor victims in the Gulf, including in Saudi Arabia. And we’ve called upon the government to investigate those cases and the connections that there may be within Bangladesh to migrants who are going there and perhaps being compelled to work.
There’s also a concern around recruitment fees in Bangladesh, and we’re deeply concerned about how recruitment fees might be used as a way that traffickers are coercing individuals, including how they’re operating perhaps as – subagents of recruiters are operating illegally.
And then finally, a massive challenge is perhaps in Cox’s Bazar. And I had the privilege of getting to visit Bangladesh and getting down to Cox’s Bazar. Concerned about the Rohingya and the vulnerabilities that they face around trafficking, and I think there needs to be far more done to investigate trafficking there.
So we do recognize the positives and some of the progress Bangladesh has made. Grateful for the consistent engagement by our ambassador there, Ambassador Miller, who’s been a champion of this issue and consistently brought it up to the government. So there’s good work that has been done, and there’s much, much more work that has to be done in the future.
MODERATOR: All right. Thank you.
Our next question comes from Pearl Matibe with Open Parliament in Zimbabwe. Pearl, please ask your question.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Ambassador. I was just quickly flipping through your report, and I noticed on page 64 the map of Africa, which is a very nice visualization there. But I have a couple of questions because the caption to the numbers that you have there does say that you’re relying on sources from African governments, number one; number two, that this is representing labor trafficking only. So my question to you is how reliable – how can we trust these numbers? I don’t – I’m not certain – well, I don’t know too much about your verification processes, but information coming out of some of these regimes is not always trustworthy. And also the map shows Sub-Saharan Africa, not the entire continent. Is there another – what can you share maybe or comment between maybe the difference between the entire continent and Sub-Saharan Africa itself? Thanks.
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: Absolutely. So a couple of points on that. First, the countries that are represented on the map for Africa are – is the region that the State Department has created in order to organize ourself in terms of our dealings. Northern Africa is grouped with a different region, which is – includes the Gulf and the Middle East. And so those countries are all served by the same group of folks working on a regional team, but we’ve divided up kind of those northern countries in Africa from the southern countries in Africa. So our Africa Bureau focuses its work on the countries that you see represented on the map that you just mentioned.
But I really appreciate you drawing everyone’s attention to the numbers that are represented in this chart. These are the material that we’ve been able to gather from governments. We know that some governments have a great deal of difficulty in pulling together and knowing what their data is. There may be – able to get information from capital, but not maybe information from more rural areas. There may be – some countries have electronic systems for maintaining this data; some still do it on all paper, and it’s difficult to access.
So we’re sharing what we’re receiving. You talk about verification. I think there are some real questions there. And if you read the sentence below the chart, we’re trying to express that these numbers are important because they’re what are being provided, but we’re not trying to state that these are completely accurate. It could be that a country has actually identified more victims than they’re able to share because they’re not getting information from a rural area or another part of the country. It could also mean that there could be some level of inflation. A government could actually have given an inaccurate number in the other direction.
I do, though, want to draw your attention to your question about forced labor. The number in the parenthetical in the chart is the number of individuals the government shared that they identified or prosecuted or convicted that was involved in labor traffic, forced labor. The larger number – that parenthetical number is a subset of the larger number next to it, and that would include all victims identified, so sex trafficking and labor trafficking victims.
So for instance, for Africa, it indicates that there were 41,609 victims identified by governments and only 1,310 of those were forced labor victims. And we highlight this for a reason. We’re deeply concerned that there’s not enough forced labor victims being identified and cared for, and that governments need to do better in this area. We want to make sure that labor trafficking is prioritized.
If you look at the – not just the Africa map, but if you look at the global law – there’s a similar table for global law enforcement information. You’ll notice that the total number of labor trafficking victims that were identified this year is the lowest number since we were able to start listing this. And so we feel like there needs to be a priority on working labor trafficking cases by governments around the world, including right here in the United States, where I think we – the number one recommendation to the United States over the last several years has been to increase its workaround labor trafficking cases. So we join in this as an area of growth.
I hope that helps.
QUESTION: Yes. Yes, it does. Thank you.
MODERATOR: All right. Ambassador, I just want to check that we’re still good on time, you’re able to take a few more questions?
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: Sure.
MODERATOR: All right. So we’ll go to Kanwal Abidi next. And then we’ll take a few questions from the chat. Kanwal, if you wouldn’t mind asking your question.
QUESTION: Hi. Can you hear me?
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay, hi. Thanks, Ambassador, for doing this press briefing. I am from Pakistan and I represent AZB Daily. My – I have two questions for you. Can you please speak at large about U.S. Government policy to coordinate with Pakistani Government to curb trafficking at large? And my second question is more of – quantitative. Are there any official statistics on trafficking across Iran and Pakistan and Afghanistan and Pakistan? If yes, under what category they fall more, like child labor, sex trafficking? So please can you just talk about border issues? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: Absolutely. I’ll just note that Pakistan was downgraded from Tier 2 to the Tier 2 Watch List by the Secretary in the report that was released today, and that’s because they did not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. But they did make significant efforts to do so. Pakistan reported an overall increase in investigations, from 23 to 77, and in its convictions. So we saw some progress there. But we’re deeply concerned that there’s very little progress on bonded labor. There are far more bonded labor cases out there than they are – than they are doing, and there’s also a data collection problem in Pakistan, which goes to the point that we were just talking about with your colleague from Zimbabwe.
In Pakistan, most of the government data and information comes from Punjab, in one province. Other provinces provide far less information and data, and so I think that that’s an area of growth for Pakistan, is figuring out how to pull this information together so that they can – so that they can share it.
We did note that the government achieved the first conviction under the 2018 trafficking act. However, law enforcement efforts overall dropped significantly. The government only investigated 916 sex trafficking cases, compared with 2,367 the year before. So it dropped way down in terms of the number of sex trafficking cases that it was focused on. There’s also a challenge with complicity of government officials that we hear continued reports about the need to investigate complicity in Pakistan.
So we look forward to working with the Government of Pakistan. The State Department has been working very hard to build that partnership and that relationship and to keep this as an issue of priority. We know that where we’re focused on trafficking, we’re focused on the rule of law and we’re focused on the protection systems that are necessary to help vulnerable people. And so working through this issue actually benefits the whole of government.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much.
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: Hey, if we could go back to the journalist who asked about Azerbaijan.
QUESTION: Thank you.
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: And I apologize, I do have some information here that can help us. You asked why is it on the Watch List. The efforts – the efforts that they did make: they convicted more traffickers, they provided guidance to judges, and they issued some stricter sentences for traffickers. But the government – I’d also note that it established grants for civil society, it significantly increased overall funding for victim protection, and I see the engagement with civil society as an incredibly positive, positive move.
However, they didn’t demonstrate an overall increase in efforts compared with the prior reporting period, and that’s why they remained on the Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year. And as you noted earlier, next year would be the last year, with a waiver, that they would be able to stay on the Tier 2 Watch List.
The government identified fewer victims, it did not regularly screen vulnerable populations, and it continued to lack sort of proactive victim identification efforts, particularly internal trafficking. We know from the International Labor Organization that the majority of trafficking victims never cross a border. They’re trafficked in their country of origin. And so making sure that we’re not just thinking about this as a transnational crime, but we’re also thinking about it as a internal crime, a crime that is domestic. In fact, that was the theme of last year’s TIP Report. The 2019 TIP Report, if you have time to download that, you’ll see lots of material that might be helpful to you as you consider how we can encourage – how we can encourage countries to focus on internal trafficking as well.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: All right. Unless anyone has any other questions that they’d like to ask, now I’ll go to a couple of questions that we’ve received in the chat. All right, we have one question: “My question is on human trafficking of athletes. In this year’s report, there’s a case study on FIFA’s efforts to monitor player recruitment, but it’s rather brief. Do you have some real stories or current numbers of human trafficking cases in sports in the continent of Asia and in Africa? And what’s being done to avoid this type of trafficking? Thank you.”
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: I was really excited that one of the topics that we were able to highlight in the introductory materials is this very issue of trafficking in sport. And I think one thing to remember, and I think that this – using athletics as a lens really helps us focus in on what are the essential aspects of trafficking. Because I think that it surprises folks to learn that trafficking occurs in this sphere.
But regardless of the industry, whether someone is being forced to dance at a bar, or someone is forced to work in an agricultural field, or someone is forced to play a sport on an athletic field, the trafficker is always recruiting and compelling people to engage in some sort of activity for which the trafficker profits. It’s an economically motivated crime. And so traffickers have learned that they can recruit young athletes with promises of what it will be like to play professionally or to train in certain camps, and they lure them in and they do it in a way that they get to profit from that experience, not the – it’s not the athletes getting to have the great athletic experience of being on a team, it’s that they now get ground down into being monetized, in a sense, for the benefit of the trafficker.
And so we took some time to highlight that. I think you’ll see from a stats standpoint, this is an area of weakness, I think, for the whole anti-trafficking movement. This is an area – and therefore it’s also an area of growth. I think the number in that article is about 15,000 potential victims. But one area that we need to grow in is figuring out, how do we measure and how do we identify the prevalence of a problem in any given space? To answer that, the State Department has undertaken a massive research initiative, the Prevalence Reduction Innovation Forum, where they’re using the best researchers from around the world to figure out different methodologies and figure out, how do we measure the scope of the problem?
So for years people have asked, how many human trafficking victims are in any particular country? And the methodologies applied have been fairly weak, and therefore we’ve gotten numbers that are difficult, because the survey instrument you would use to ask about adult men who are being forced to work in agriculture is very different than the survey instrument that you would use to ask about minor boys being sold for commercial sex. Different traffickers, different industries, different areas.
And so we’re funding a number of prevalence studies that are industry-specific and geographically focused. So instead of how many victims are in Kenya, the question would be: How many domestic workers are forced in metro Nairobi? That’s a number you could get, and then you could get interventions and try activities to see if you could measure again, reduce that number, and figure out: Are we actually making an impact through our efforts on the prevalence of a problem?
So I very much appreciate you raising the question of prevalence around athletics as well as the issue of prevalence in other areas.
MODERATOR: All right. Thank you very much, Ambassador. And we will take one more question, unless there’s any in the chat. Remember, you can always raise your hand. We’ll take one more question that we received in the chat: “The coronavirus pandemic has led to several countries closing their borders or restricting immigration, e.g. asylum, visas, et cetera. Have you seen an increase in trafficking in persons in the last few months because these avenues of legal migration have been shut down?”
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: That’s a great question, and one that is worth spending some time thinking through. I’d love to share with you how I’ve been trying to process this question of COVID’s impact on trafficking. And you all may have your own ideas as well about what is going on, because we’re all experiencing this in real time. We’re living it right now and trying to sort it out.
A couple things I’d note. Number one: Traffickers have not shut down. They are capitalizing on the chaos of this moment, and they are continuing to exploit people. Another thing that I think we can take away is that people who are vulnerable are being made more vulnerable by this pandemic, both by illness perhaps – because they have the virus – but also because of shutdown orders and stay-at-home orders. It’s – we are hearing concerning patterns of victims actually being forced to quarantine with their traffickers. This is particularly difficult if the traffickers are family members, where – or someone is stuck at home and their parents, or their uncle, or their aunt are the ones that are trafficking them. Now they have even less ability to get out.
So we’re deeply concerned about how COVID might be having its impact on victims, compounding the trauma that they experience. We know that if they can’t protect themselves from their traffickers, they’re not going to be able to safely protect themselves from the virus either.
I’d also say it has an impact on survivors, people who are no longer currently being trafficked, but their access to services might have been diminished, their ability to get the care or the treatment or be a part of a support group or counseling. More difficult to do that in a socially distant setting.
I’ve also heard from survivors who lost their jobs through no fault of their own because of government orders to shut down businesses. And now without that economic stability, they’re made more vulnerable, and they worry that their traffickers might target them again in the future.
We’ve also seen a concerning pattern about traffickers using the internet itself to commit their crime more and more, that cyber sex trafficking, if you will, is on the rise. The amount of abusive, inappropriate photos of children are being sold and streamed, and we’re seeing governments are beginning to see more and more evidence of that.
I’ll tell you, though, that although traffickers are not shutting down, this is a time where people of goodwill have got to accelerate their efforts to make sure that vulnerable people are protected. And government has a unique responsibility to make sure that it’s actually taking the words on paper, the laws that have been created, and using those laws, implementing them, to protect individuals who are in need. And that responsibility has not been cancelled. That responsibility continues throughout the – through this coronavirus crisis, and we have to make sure that trafficking remains a priority.
And I will just say the fact that the TIP Report has come out on time in the midst of this pandemic, while everyone has been teleworking, I think is evidence itself of the priority that the United States is placing on this issue. And we’re going to join with all of our colleagues around the world as they keep trying to make this a priority as well.
MODERATOR: All right. Thank you very much, Ambassador Richmond. I want to thank you so much for coming out and speaking to our journalists, taking the time out for the important work that you do. I also want to thank our journalists for taking the time to come out and learn about the topic, and for the excellent questions they gave.
With that, we will conclude our briefing. If you have any remaining questions, you can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. A transcript of this briefing will hopefully be ready as soon as possible, either later this evening or tomorrow morning, and the video and transcript will be posted to our website, fpc.state.gov. If the people who have requested one-on-one interviews would please stick around; otherwise, everyone else can leave the meeting. I believe we had three that we were able to make time for: Salim, Nike, and Pearl. Please stick around for one-on-one briefings. Otherwise, everyone else please close out of the meeting. Thank you.