Tag Archives: human trafficking

North Korea turning to human trafficking for foreign currency

WASHINGTON – To generate new income sources, the North Korean government has engaged in state-sponsored trafficking of its citizens, sending them to work as forced laborers in other countries and confiscating all or most of their wages, an issue of increased focus in the international community.

“I see it as just starting to get attention. It’s an emergent issue on the international agenda,” said Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Both the Korea Economic Institute and the House’s Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held meetings in Washington D.C. in April and May to address the trafficking.

North Korea, frequently ranked as the world’s worst human rights abuser, has lured between 50,000 and 60,000 citizens to work in industries around the globe with the promise they would keep their wages, according to a paper from the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights presented on Tuesday. Instead, the wages are sent to the North Korean government, generating as much as $2.3 billion per year.

Industries employing the laborers range from logging and mining to restaurants, and workers who complain or escape risk reprisal against themselves and their families who remain in North Korea, said Robert King, special envoy for North Korea Human Rights Issues at the State Department, at the House hearing.

Workers have been sent through bilateral contracts to around 40 countries, primarily Russia, China, Mongolia and nations in Africa, central Europe and the Middle East, according to a State Department Trafficking in Persons Report from March.

Snyder said the increased trafficking is one of North Korea’s ways of earning foreign exchange. Previously, the government sustained itself through other illicit means, such as drug trafficking, counterfeiting and weapon sales, but those income sources have been declining.

“They’re running a trade deficit with the rest of the world and it’s mostly shown in trade with China,” Snyder said.

“Whatever North Korea can do to make a profit it does, and much of it turns out to be illegal.”

One defector, Lim Il, told the Lantos commission that he had been a state employee in North Korea but went to Kuwait to work at a construction company, where he was required to put in 14-hour days under strict surveillance, with two days off per month.

“I think we were slave laborers,” Il said.

After escaping to the South Korean embassy, he learned that his salary had all gone to the Office of the Worker’s Party that manages foreign currency. “The money obtained through the export of laborers overseas [is] used as a personal fund for Kim Jong-un,” the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights paper said.

The U.S. and international community are facing difficulty curtailing the trafficking, said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch at the House hearing. The biggest reasons are that most of the work occurs in Russia and China, it provides North Koreans minimal exposure to the outside world which may help undermine the government, and officials have not decided whether to approach it from a sanctions or human rights perspective.

“To address this is going to require attention and focus from the international community,” Snyder said. “And the best way of doing that would probably be to make this an issue of concern for the counterparts.”

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Amidst problems, US expected to rank well in human trafficking report

WASHINGTON–For the first time, the United States will include itself in the State Department’s Annual Human Trafficking report, to be released in June.

Though the department has been tight-lipped about the report’s contents, contributors anticipate the first U.S. ranking will be favorable. But some say such good news would reflect a bias in this notoriously political document.

“From what I’ve seen, we should be on the watch list,” said Nathan Wilson, CEO of Project Meridian Foundation, an organization that trains officials in how to deal with human trafficking.  “I’m not expecting the annual report to reflect the true situation.­” ­

The annual report has been around since the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, a result of then First Lady Hillary Clinton shining a light onto the global issue during  the 1990s, when the transnational crime is believed to have grown exponentially.

Trafficked humans often start their journeys in a consensual arrangement where they pay to get smuggled into the United States, but often end up working for years in jobs where they are exploited or even beaten,  imprisoned and sexually abused.

The State Department has ranked a growing number of countries ­in their efforts to prevent and address human trafficking. Information in the report comes from law enforcement officials, non-governmental organizations and state and local governments. The report then categorizes 175 countries into tiers.

  • Tier 1 countries meet the minimum requirements outlined in the TVPA.
  • Tier 2, generally the largest category, includes countries making some effort to combat human trafficking, but are not meeting all TVPA requirements.
  • Tier 2 Watch List countries have major trafficking problems or have had a recent backslide on prevention efforts.
  • Tier 3 countries have a long way to go in their efforts to combat human trafficking.

Thousands – conservatively estimated at 14,500 to 17,500 – of foreigners are trafficked into the United States every year. Yet, up until this point, the global report has addressed the problem in the U.S. by attaching the Department of Justice’s report as an addendum. The U.S. was left out of the ranking system, thus making a direct and similar comparison to other countries impossible.

Labor Trafficking:

Conjuring notions of a foreign land, sex and children, experts agree that human trafficking remains generally misunderstood in the U.S. Half of human trafficking cases do not explicitly involve sex, and many people assume that because the U.S. has robust law enforcement and social services available, victims will have a way out, Austin said.

“It’s psychological,” she said, explaining that many victims feel helpless and unable to break free of captivity even if they are not physically forced to stay. “People may have options, but they don’t think they do.”

Two recent cases presented at the Department of Justice’s 2010 National Conference on Human Trafficking demonstrated the nature of the half of U.S. trafficking cases that fall in the labor category.

They’re as ubiquitous ­ as hotel cleaning and nannying, and as American as South Dakota and Texas.

U.S. v. Farrell and U.S. v. Nanji both cast U.S. trafficking as a modern form of forced labor thrust upon unsuspecting people and perpetuated by ignorance of rights and mounting fabricated debt, experts explained.

Human trafficking in the U.S. is less about the stereotype of duping and kidnapping and more about coercion, said Ambassador Luis CdeBaca of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons in his opening remarks at the conference.

In the Farrell’s case, a husband and wife operated a South Dakota Comfort Inn behind what Michael Frank, trial attorney for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division Criminal Section, called a “cloak of legitimacy.” Frank described a situation that looked fine on the surface – a large corporation where the defendants called Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents asking the workers to be removed.

But beneath the surface of happy employees and copies of paychecks. officials found a sordid operation where Filipino workers felt so entrapped by false debt that they returned to their payless jobs even after leaving the country.

“They feared for their lives,” Frank said.

But after the recent trial and sentencing, the trafficking victims are living happily in the U.S.,  Frank said, and Mr. and Mrs. Farrell are serving sentences of 5 and 3 years.

Unlike the case against the Farrells, only one Nigerian woman was involved in U.S. v. Nanji. Trial attorney Susan French’s defendant was a Nigerian mother held captive by a Texa_s couple who forced her to care for their children for eight years, seven days a week, sending what totaled around $300 back home to Nigeria.

The defendant put up with the children sleeping in her room, separation from her own children and rape, but eventually forced sodomy was too much for her, French said.

The Nanji­s were found guilty on all accounts and are awaiting sentencing.

From a public health and human rights standpoint, this is a national security issue, CdeBaca said.

Experts expect that ranking U.S. efforts to prevent and deal with cases such as these will legitimize the issue of trafficking in the U.S. and expose the weaknesses in the system.

“It is significant that United States is including itself in the ranking. Other people might say it’s just a gesture or symbolic, but it shows we are willing to look at ourselves critically – showing others that we are holding ourselves to the same standards,” Andrea Austin, spokeswoman for Polaris Project said.