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UN Trust Fund Provides Hope for Indonesian Women Trafficked Abroad

Elly Anita is one of many Indonesian women who have been trafficked to the Middle East for forced labor

The United Nations has established a new multi-donor trust fund to aid victims of human trafficking around the world. Indonesian women remain among the most vulnerable to trafficking, despite the country's progress in passing laws to combat the problem.

Anita's story

In 2006, Elly Anita from East Java moved to Dubai to work as a secretary. After two months of sexual harassment by her boss and having received no wages, she asked for a transfer. She was sent to Kurdistan, which she was told was a part of Italy.

When Anita stepped off the plane and called her agent, he refused to tell her where she was.

"I couldn't sleep that night. I was thinking, where am I? Oh my god. I was so afraid," Anita recalled.

It took her two weeks to figure out that she had been sent to war-torn Iraq.

Anita's story is not unique. In recent years, the number of reported cases of abuse has sharply increased.

Target areas

The vast majority of reports of violence last year occurred in the Middle East and Malaysia, comprising 63 percent and 33 percent, respectively, according to the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Gary Lewis, the East Asia and Pacific representative from the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime, says that although the number of reports has risen, the lack of data makes it difficult to measure the true extent of the problem.

"If we don't know that outcomes are resulting, if we don't know, for example, that there are fewer women being arrested for soliciting who have been victims, if we don't know that there are a greater number of brothel keepers and kingpins who are being arrested, prosecuted and convicted for these crimes, we won't know that our actions are leading to anything conclusive or useful at all," said Lewis. "So we need baseline data not only to see if the problem is growing, but we need it to see if our actions are actually having a proper impact."

Agency role

The UN agency will be responsible for administering a multi-donor trust find as part of the UN Global Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, launched last week. The money will strengthen support for trafficked victims.

Nora Murat, director of Amnesty International Malaysia, says the money should address victims' immediate needs.

"The urgent need right now is to build a center for them, for them to wait until their cases are heard in court," Murat said. "Because right now, them being put into detention centers is not really helping, both for the prosecution and also the victim. I would put the money there first, and also to look into their personal human rights - the right to food the right to health and access to water."

Lack of assistance

When Anita tried to escape Iraq, she had no such shelter to go to. She went back to her agent's office and found around 40 other women victims sleeping on the floor. Instead of helping her, Anita's agent confiscated her cellphone and refused to return her passport. She resorted to stealing the security guard's phone, and contacting the Indonesian Embassy in Jordan.

"When I talked to my government, nothing," said Anita. "They didn't even give me a small response. So no one. I just talked to my god and found a solution by myself, because I couldn't depend on anyone. Even my government."

Happy ending

Victims who do not get government help often rely on non-governmental organizations for support. Anita finally found help when she contacted Migrant Care, a local NGO for whom she now works. While still in Iraq, her story circulated on the internet. When her agent heard about the publicity, he and his workers beat Anita.

"The pulled my hair, they beat me, they kicked me also, they tried to strangle me," Anita added. "They wanted to kill me at that time, because they said all this damage was because of me."

With the help of Migrant Care, Anita found her way home to Indonesia.

Since her ordeal, Indonesia has made some progress on the issue, passing an anti-trafficking law and signing all U.N. conventions and protocols relating to human trafficking.

Implementation of these laws, however, remains poor and is subject to corrupt police and government systems, making additional U.N. funding to support Indonesian victims all the more welcome.