Archive for July 15, 2011

Shelters for Victims of Human Trafficking in Kazakhstan

The following is written by a British person I know who has the courage to help where the need is so great in Kazakhstan.  If you read my blog written by the same person, you will see this person is impassioned to DO something on a practical level to help alleviate the pain that victims go through in trying to have a “normal” life again.

“I mentioned before that I was going to meet the staff at the centre concerned with the actual ‘treatment’ of trafficking victims and the process of re-integration into society (Kz or other) which I did a few weeks ago.

Before writing about that, I would like to give you some more background as context. There are shelters throughout Kazakhstan that are all funded differently and are independent. ‘Ours’ is funded by the Ministry of Justice, which also funds the centre we met in. Another place was a feminist women’s shelter which has become a shelter for trafficking victims and is currently run by the IOM with Swedish & Dutch NGO funding and Almaty is funded by the Almaty City government.  Therefore there is no national ‘chain’ though they work quite closely together.

At the centre I met Aliya, the director (not sure of her exact title) of the shelter, and Zoya, their psychologist, who has been working there for nearly 5 years as well as Aigerim, an English teacher, who very kindly translated for us.  I asked about the process of rehabilitation & re-integration of their different residents.  The whole talk lasted about two hours so this is, of necessity, a shortened version. I hope it is a fair summary of what I was told.

According to Aliya, there are different ‘seasons’ for different residents: labour trafficked victims usually come in Autumn after crops have been gathered in (relaxation on the part of the exploiter?) whereas sex trafficked women seem to come in Winter (presumably the cold deters a chase), the summer is, it seems, a quiet time for new victims
Furthermore, Aliya told me later, in response to a question about the changing profile of victim, that there seemed to be a trend towards more Kazakh young women being sex trafficked in Astana in the three years she has been there. She did not know if this applied to the other shelters; I had also been told this by the IOM as the growth of Astana as a meeting, conference and business centre stimulated demand in the hotel sector and the attendant ‘service’ sector.

So, what happens to a new ‘entrant’?  When someone is admitted to the centre, there is a social worker assessment to identify his/her needs before Zoya becomes involved.  She stressed the absolute priority is to build up trust and confidence between her, the social worker and the new ‘client’ (the term they use) in order to progress  Consequently, she could not give an ‘average’ time for this process as it was individual – it varied enormously and the shortest time was around six weeks but that was exceptional.  I had been told by IOM that a guideline was half the period of slavery/servitude (eg 1 year in servitude roughly equalled 6 months rehabilitation)

Once trust had been established, they then started to work on the areas identified by the initial assessment.  These very often involved what we might term ‘life skills’ at a very basic level such as personal hygiene (eg the correct way to wash your own hair) moving onto such things as learning to wash clothes or perform other domestic tasks before trying to inculcate social skills such as are needed when living in a group environment (the girls share a 5-bed room)  All of which could frequently be difficult with the residents with the background they had and the difficulty in forming any new relationship (especially with males.)

While all this was happening there could also be the legal process involved in either a court case here in Kazakhstan or obtaining new documents to enable repatriation for non Kazakhs (often Uzbeks I was told) Documentation could also be a problem for Kazakh citizens if they had lost or been robbed of their own documents, especially if they were to be reunited with their families (assuming they were not involved in the original trafficking)  Relocation would not be the end for a client as they would have a local phone number for continued support as well as being able to call the shelter here to talk to Aliya who said she puts a strict limit on how long that may last

Zoya is of the ‘nurture’ school as she heavily emphasized the role of early childhood in the life path that a client ends up on (“choice “not really being an appropriate word).  She felt from her 5-year experience that very early childhood experience in the form of affection/love (or more likely, lack of either) formed the person and it was very difficult to change that (at least in Kazakhstan).  Aliya added from her experience prior to the shelter when she worked in a refuge for victims of domestic violence (a big problem in Kazakhstan) that a cycle of abuse and/or neglect was often
created and became generational. This is without the sort of bond that might be created between exploiter and exploited of which they gave me some instances…”

(to be continued)

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