Recruiters came to Angela’s town in Syria offering paid work in restaurants in Lebanon. She accepted to leave her war-torn country, but found herself subjected to sex trafficking along with dozens of other girls. They were locked in hotels and sometimes forced to see 20 clients each day. The traffickers also raped and tortured the girls into submission. Angela finally escaped with help from police.
Angela’s case was one of the stories told in the State Department’s 2016 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, which highlights issues of modern slavery, child soldiers, forced marriage, and domestic servitude. It also unveils efforts by governments from 188 countries and territories around the globe, including the United States, to combat human trafficking.
In this year’s report, eight countries were added to the blacklist of nations considered the worst offenders in human trafficking, the so-called Tier 3 list. The new nations added include the former Soviet states of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan along with the fledgling democracy of Myanmar, Haiti, Djibouti, Papua New Guinea, Sudan and Suriname. A Tier 3 rating can trigger sanctions limiting access to American and international aid.
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The State Department said despite sustained anti-trafficking efforts, millions of individuals are bound by “mental, physical, and financial coercion” and manipulation by traffickers who “exploit their vulnerabilities for profit.”
“Modern day slavery that still today claims more than 20 millions victims on any given time, all 20 millions are people … they have names, they have or had families,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, calling human trafficking an industry that makes billions of dollars each year.
WATCH: Anti-trafficking hero tells one victim's story
Kerry said political considerations did not figure into the ranking determination, though that assertion has been met with some criticism.
Kristen Abrams — senior advisor at Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, a coalition of 13 U.S.-based human rights organizations — told VOA that political motivations seem to have influenced the State Department’s decision-making in regards to the trafficking report.
“The Trafficking in Persons report matters if it's released with integrity. Other countries and other stakeholders can rely on the State Department’s unbiased ranking, and I think that the State Department can do so by relying exclusively on credible evidence and facts on the ground, but not politics,” said Abrams.
While continued efforts in protection and prosecution are essential, human trafficking prevention strategies deserve commensurate resources, said the report, which is urging governments around the globe to work with civil society to prevent human trafficking.
State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons Susan Coppedge told VOA Thursday the report provides a roadmap for improvement for countries to follow.
“There are recommendations as to what that country can do to improve the fight against trafficking within their borders. It also allows the U.S. to engage in bilateral diplomacy with countries on the issue of trafficking in persons,” said Coppedge.
While in many ways human trafficking victims suffer at the hands of their traffickers, they also may suffer from treatment by governments, including by the criminal justice systems that should protect them, according to the report.
The purpose of issuing the report is neither to scold nor to name and shame, but to encourage people to change for better, according to Secretary of State John Kerry.
Nine men and women were honored for their tireless efforts that have made a lasting impact on the fight against the modern slavery.
Among them are anti-trafficking activists Biram Abeid and Brahim Ramdhane from Mauritania, a country where slavery was not formally outlawed until 1981. Abeid and Ramdhane are both the children of slaves, and they have chosen careers focused on confronting injustice in Mauritania.
Oluremi Banwo Kehinde is a Russia-based anti-trafficking activist. Despite personal threats to his life, Kehinde tirelessly works to assist and protect Nigerian and other African victims of sex trafficking.
This year’s report marks the 16th year the Trafficking in Persons Report has been produced, which was mandated under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, or TVPA.
In this year’s report, 36 countries and territories are on Tier 1; 78 countries and territories are on Tier 2; the Tier 2 Watch List contains another 44 countries and territories; and Tier 3 is comprised of 27 countries and territories.
Libya, Somalia and Yemen each are listed as a so-called “Special Case” because a stable government does not necessarily exist in those countries to implement policy.
“Somalia has been a special case for a while, Yemen and Libya are new to that category this year,” Coppedge said, because “if there isn't a government that’s stable in the country, it's hard to evaluate their efforts, so we move them to the special case category.”
Countries ranked as Tier 1 are considered in full compliance with minimum standards of the TVPA, but the designation does not mean trafficking has been eradicated in those countries.
A Tier 2 ranking means countries do not meet the minimum standards, but they are taking significant efforts to do so. The Tier 2 Watch List means a country is making significant efforts, but the absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is significantly increasing, and they are failing to provide evidence of increased efforts.
Kuwait and Thailand were moved off the lowest Tier 3 ranking of the annual listing and promoted to the "Tier 2 Watch List."
VOA's Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report.