Youth volunteers and anti-trafficking: what if I were you?

Published: 12 November 2011 11:00 CET

by Giovanni Zambello

Even though the global scale of human trafficking is hard to quantify, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), some 800,000 people may be trafficked across borders every year. Probably many more within the borders of their own countries.

In the European context, the problem of trafficking human beings involves especially Belarus and the Scandinavian countries. Belarus, in particular, represents a source, a destination, and transit country for women, men, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour: according to data from the Belarus Ministry of Interior of the country, from 2003 to 2006 the number of victims identified by state authorities increased by 316 per cent, with some 1,107 individuals in 2006 alone.

In July 2010, the Belarusian Red Cross, the Icelandic Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies launched a joint knowledge and capacity building project called ‘Youth volunteering to prevent trafficking in human beings’ aimed at informing and assisting those who were victims of human trafficking, and at enhancing prevention activities among people at risk of being trafficked.

In the year after the launch of the project, a total of 1,345 young people at risk benefited from awareness raising campaigns, training and educational sessions. More than 9,000 representatives of communities were mobilized through 241 Red Cross volunteers and staff, and 18 people who were victims of trafficking are now receiving re-integration assistance in the Belarusian Red Cross branch in Gomel.

“I am a law student and I was already familiar with the problem of trafficking from a legal perspective, so I decided to contribute as a volunteer,” say Anna Kovtun, a volunteer of the Belarusian Red Cross. “Last year we had a small initiative to distribute information on anti-trafficking. We raised questions such as: What is trafficking? How not to become a victim? How to go abroad and work in safe conditions? Of course, we could not target a large group of people, but those who were trained have relatives and friends who will also be reached through them.”

In order to improve awareness among potential victims of trafficking, a number of peer-to-peer activities such as role-playing games, simulations, forum-theatre and active participation exercises have taken place.

Support in developing a role-play game on trafficking was one of the tasks of an international youth exchange project organised between Belarus and Denmark in May-June 2011. The role-play, which will be fully developed during the second year of the project cycle, is intended to put young people in the position of a person who agrees to go abroad without know what they will face.

A similar activity was organized in a summer camp held in July 2010, where participants were asked to give their passports to people they barely knew, made to sign documents stating that they would owe the organizers money, and transported away without being told where they were going.

“By using a bottom-up approach, such activities force youth to put themselves in the shoes of the people they work for and with. They experience a glimpse of what it feels like to be vulnerable, to have your documents taken away from you, to be deceived and to be tricked into signing documents containing information which is the opposite to your expectations,” says Ekaterina Leleka, anti-trafficking coordinator in the Belarusian Red Cross.

“This helps to switch a person’s usual perspective to that of someone who was trafficked, who experienced fear, confusion and isolation. Once you have done that, you are much more capable of understanding the other.”