Gashuun Sukhait and Zamiin-Uud border crossings with China have been identified as two of the major hotspots with an increased human trafficking risk due to recently boosted mining activity in the region, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Ahead of International Migrants Day (IMD) held on December 18, IOM Mongolia has warned that the recent development of Mongolia’s mining industry in the Gobi has led to an increase in internal and international migration toward the mining sites, intensifying the risk of cross-border human trafficking.
New figures show IOM Mongolia assisted 160 victims of human trafficking between 2012 and November 2016, with 32 cases reported in 2016. IOM said 92 percent of the victims were women and 19 percent were underage.
IOM Mongolia Programme Officer Emanuela Muscara said while the majority of cases were internal trafficking within Mongolia, many victims were also trafficked internationally.
“The human trafficking we have been witnessing lately is mostly of Mongolian girls and women being trafficked abroad, mainly to China where they are exploited and forced into sex work,” Muscara said.
“We also see cases in Hong Kong and Macau as well as cases of men and women subjected to forced labor in Turkey, Kazakhstan, Norway and Sweden.”
In January 2016, IOM Mongolia launched a two-year EU funded project focusing on the Gobi region to combat domestic and international human trafficking and risky sexual behavior.
“The increase in the mining in the area and the massive movements of people across the border in Zamiin-Uud and through Gashuun Sukhait of truck drivers carrying coal means there’s an increased risk of human trafficking,” Muscara said.
These towns often just have two banks, one shop and are almost empty. But it’s places like these that prove a high risk.
Women from low socioeconomic backgrounds are most at risk and while they are often recruited in Ulaanbaatar, victims come from all over Mongolia. Human trafficking referral cases come from law enforcement officials at border points, Mongolian consulates overseas, a hotline, and from families and friends.
IOM Mongolia National Programme Officer R.Oyunbileg explained that while some women willingly choose to be sex workers, human trafficking becomes a crime when women are transported or hired and then coerced, underpaid or exploited.
“Some of the victims that we have seen have accepted going into sex work as they are promised better pay, but then of course they’re not paid – they’re exploited and their passport is seized by the trafficker. From China, some victims escape and some are rescued by police.
“In many cases they’re not knowingly taken so there’s a element of coercion and exploitation of their vulnerability. They might be poor and think they’re getting a job in a hotel as waitress so they go under false conditions and that’s when they are harbored and forced to be a prostitute.”
The IOM team recently conducted a capacity building training with law enforcement officials including police and immigration staff so they can better identify and assess cases of human trafficking.
A memorandum of understanding between police officers of China and Mongolia to tackle human trafficking was recently renewed.
In partnership with the Mongolian Gender Equality Center (MGEC), IOM has provided comprehensive support services to trafficking victims including livelihood and vocational training and medical, psychological and legal assistance. The MGEC also runs a drop-in center in Zamiin-Uud.
IOM programmes have focused on awareness-raising to truck drivers who might witness trafficking as well as high schools where vulnerable young girls may be targeted.
Head of the Law and Policy Department at the Mongolian Ministry of Justice and Internal Affairs Enkhtuya has previously stated that human trafficking is a priority for the ministry and the government is promoting cooperation to support the prevention of human trafficking crimes.
One of the messages on IMD is to stop counting the number of migrants and start protecting them, many of whom do not know their legal rights. IOM is the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration and last year assisted an estimated 20 million migrants worldwide.