Visit to Almaty’s trafficking shelter

The following was written by a British person who has been actively involved in helping the trafficking shelters in Kazakhstan. He supplies different shelters with donated clothes, kitchen utensils and other things necessary for living in transition.  He has gained the trust of those in charge of places where trafficked victims either stay for a short duration or spend time getting rehabilitated.  For a peek in, this provides a good window into what is really going on:

“I was invited to visit the shelter in Almaty in the course of a recent visit to the city in the company of Aliya who is the national trafficking officer for the International Organisation for Migration  It is currently the only IOM shelter in the south of Kz though there are plans in motion to open another shelter closer to Taras, but as yet with no fixed calendar for its realization (victims rescued in the area are helped through cooperation with other NGOs on an ad hoc basis)

The shelter in Almaty is a small flat and Nurgul, the director, claims it is the smallest in Kazakhstan. But after I recently visited a new one in northern KZ, there is one that is actually smaller which seemed to disappoint Nurgul!  It is however quite airy and the little space available is used very efficiently – it has to be! There were only two residents when I visited though the number varies greatly (as in all the shelters) due to it also serving as a transit shelter for those rescued from other countries (e.g. Turkey).  I was told that over the last year the shelter has had as many victims as in Astana though they tend to stay for a shorter period.

The staff consists of two shifts of two people with another person who can be called on in case of holiday and/or illness; they are VERY strict about NO contact when off duty in order to avoid ‘burnout’!  Nurgul is both the Director and psychologist and the other staff are social workers. All staff are female as it is a center for women only (Astana usually has only women, but does accommodate men as well, e.g. some of the group of 11 Uzbeks from last year stayed there) Over the years Nurgul has built up good relations with the local police though police involvement in (particularly) sex trafficking is well known (a previous resident recognized one officer from a photo of a seminar group to increase awareness of the issue!)

There is a very much more open approach evident with an emphasis on rehabilitation & reintegration through engagement with the outside world. Keep in mind that the northern shelters are both located some way outside the city centre so travel to/from the centre is rather less straightforward. They take a LOT of photos which are displayed on the walls and kept on their computers and are evidence of their willingness to go out with/take out the young women in their care. They visit exhibitions as well as go to shopping centres and other amusement areas such as zoos, leisure parks, etc.

The victims in the shelter are also encouraged to undertake some form of vocational training to improve their employment opportunities (much needed in view of their generally low education level) as well as craft activities to identify any latent talents they may have. Detailed records are kept of anything they have done including a ‘mood diary’ where a resident uses different colours to indicate their mood on a given day; I was shown one where the only ‘bad’ day was when the young woman had contact with her mother!

One rather heart-warming example was that of a young woman who was a given a job through a friend of Nurgul’s who had her own business; the young woman is now a department head!  There are sadly rather more cases of people ‘slipping through the net’ after leaving the shelter and returning to their life as a trafficking victim (either through economic necessity or through a form of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’)

But, to finish on a more optimistic note one of the residents was a young woman who was rescued from potential labour trafficking through the prompt and effective action of a police officer after being alerted by the victim’s mother in Uzbekistan.  A further contrast with Astana is that Nurgul felt that labour trafficking had become more significant through her observation over the last few years.

My overall impression was very favourable; I was impressed by the sincerity and commitment shown by Nurgul and her staff and the organization of the shelter.  Of course, it does not all go smoothly when the residents are young women who want to go out and have fun, which has led to problems with late night ‘visitors.’ But in general, there seems to be a very good atmosphere in the shelter.  I certainly appreciated the opportunity to visit the shelter and see for myself how things operated and Nurgul was pleased to pass on her thanks to all those who had contributed clothes/bedding to the shelter.

Thanks are also due to Aliya for arranging everything and acting as interpreter the work, however, is never ending unfortunately so contributions are constantly needed therefore clothes and/or household items can always be donated through me.”

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