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IOM: Tsunami Victims Vulnerable to Traffickers

The International Organization for Migration is mounting an information campaign in camps housing tsunami victims in Sri Lanka. The IOM is warning them to be wary of human traffickers, who may take advantage of their desperate situation and make false promises of a better life abroad.

The International Organization for Migration says Sri Lanka has long been a so-called "source country" for women trafficked to Lebanon and several Gulf States for forced labor and sexual exploitation.

IOM Spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy says women and children also are trafficked within the country for domestic and sexual servitude.

"So, we know that, prior to the tsunami, this phenomenon existed in Sri Lanka," he said. "Now, what we are doing at the moment is to make sure that those who have been affected by the tsunami, who have lost their livelihoods, we want to make sure that they are wary of people who might promise good jobs abroad, or outside the country, the area of origin. We also want to alert parents to watch for strangers who might offer to take their children, in order to give them a better life elsewhere."

To get that message across, Mr. Chauzy says, IOM is distributing thousands of brightly colored posters and leaflets, written in both Sinhala and Tamil, throughout Sri Lanka.

"We have also put in place a telephone hotline, which is operational seven days a week, where people who think they might run the risk of being trafficked can actually call for quick reference, to double-check whether the job offer that might be made to them abroad is, indeed, a proper job offer, or whether it is a bogus [false] job offer," he said.

Mr. Chauzy says IOM is planning a series of public service announcements to be broadcast on national radio and television. The agency also will use the media to help it promote peoples' awareness of the risks they might encounter.

In addition to the poster campaign, he says, IOM is providing economic support to single-parent households. He says families that have money to support themselves will be better able to protect their children from exploitation.