Joining Hands to Combat Human Trafficking in the Asia-Pacific

By APLP Fellows Loan T. Le from Vietnam and Amir Ramin from Afghanistan

(EWC Alumna Tin Myaing Thein, Executive Director of the Pacific Gateway Center, speaks about the problem of human trafficking. Immigration attorney Grace Michiko Nowicki (R) addressed the related legal issues.)

HONOLULU – On November 14, six fellows from the East-West Center’s Asia-Pacific Leadership Program (APLP), collaborated with the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council (PAAC) and the Pacific Gateway Center (PGC) in hosting the event, “Human Trafficking in Asia and the Pacific: Current Challenges and Future Prospects.” It was held at the Pacific Gateway Center’s headquarters in the Lemongrass Café in downtown Honolulu.

In the opening speech, PAAC Executive Director Jill Takasaki-Canfield welcomed the more than 50 participants from different walks of life gathered at the event, including Hawaii State Representative Karl Rhoads, Hawaii State Senator Suzanne Chun Oakland, EWC Diplomat-in-Residence Nicholas Papp, and EWC Director of External Affairs Karen Knudsen, along with other representatives from, the U.S. Pacific Command, and many NGOs engaging in confronting human trafficking. The event inspired very active discussion and drew a lot of attention from the participants.

“Many luncheon events have been hosted here; however, this is the first time the issue of human trafficking was the focus with attendance by many different levels of stakeholders,” remarked EWC Alumna Dr. Tin Myaing Thein, PGC Executive Director, at the luncheon. “This event is a great start and significant not only to raise awareness about the heinous crimes of human trafficking, but also because it fostered collaboration between East-West Center, PAAC and Pacific Gateway on this important issue.”

Dr. Myaing also shared with the audience that contrary to what some may think, slavery is not yet abolished and has continued in the form of human trafficking, and Hawaii is the hottest spot for it in the United States. Present-day human trafficking is more sophisticated than the previous method of forcing and shipping people from their villages.

The motives behind human trafficking are usually financial.  Children are frequently brought over for physical labor, domestic servitude, and sexual exploitation. People are sometimes trafficked for use in the tourism and entertainment industry, where groups of people brought by relatives are exploited and usually not paid. Sometimes people are even trafficked for organ harvesting. The language barrier is often the biggest obstacle for victims to come and speak out.

Legal procedures supporting human trafficking victims were also shared by immigration attorney Grace Michiko Nowicki, who assists immigrant victims of both domestic violence and trafficking. Victims of human trafficking are often lured by prospects of the American dream, usually with the intention of improving their families’ lives, but they are exploited by “travel agencies” and “entertainment companies,” which promise love, marriage, visas, and travel documents. Identifying victims is sometimes difficult, for they are often kept hidden inside houses, and sometimes they have experienced extreme physical and psychological abuse.

Karen Knudsen, EWC Director of External Affairs, in her closing remarks, conveyed her high appreciation to the guest speakers and the APLP International Relations Group, APLP staff and all the participants for their efforts and participation in the event.

The event was part of the Learning Lab Project of the EWC-Asia Pacific Leadership Program’s International Relations Team: Chan Chung Yiu of Hong Kong, Nafiseh Darvish of Iran, Nischal Anand Singh of India, Loan Le of Vietnam, Hafizur Rahman of Bangladesh, and Amir Ramin of Afghanistan.

(Members of the Asia Pacific Leadership Program’s International Relations team helped coordinate the event.)