Heroes in the global fight against human trafficking

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A volunteer from the humanitarian group Save the Children sits next to a banner at the Romanian-Ukrainian border in Siret, Romania, on March 7. (© Andreea Alexandru/AP Images)

A volunteer from the humanitarian group Save the Children sits next to a banner at the Romanian-Ukrainian border in Siret, Romania, on March 7. (© Andreea Alexandru/AP Images)

Human traffickers continued to exploit vulnerable and marginalized communities in 2021 and 2022, according to the latest US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, released July 19.

“The scope of this problem is vast,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, announcing the report’s findings July 19 at the State Department, noting that nearly 25 million people are currently trafficked. “The United States is committed to fighting it because trafficking destabilizes societies, it undermines economies, it harms workers, it enriches those who exploit them, it undermines legitimate businesses and, most fundamentally, because it is so deeply reprehensible.”

The report also details the increase in human trafficking threats in Ukraine following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s renewed invasion in February.

“We are deeply concerned about the risks of human trafficking faced by those internally displaced by war, as well as those fleeing Ukraine, approximately 90% of whom are women and children,” says Blinken in his introduction to the report. “Food insecurity and other wider effects of war in Russia are exacerbating trafficking risks worldwide.”

To celebrate those who help combat human trafficking in their home countries, the report also honors six Heroes of the Human Trafficking Report, five of whom will participate in the Department of International Visitor Leadership Program. State to engage with U.S. communities and organizations committed to ending human trafficking:

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Mohammad Tariqul Islam launched the Bangladesh branch of Justice and Care, the UK-based non-governmental organization (NGO), in 2017. He has led other anti-trafficking organizations to help over 2,000 victims of trafficking to get the services they need. Islam, who is currently the national director of Justice and Care, has also organized cross-border consultations between Bangladesh and India to collaborate in efforts to repatriate victims.

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Major Mohammad al-Khlaifat heads the anti-trafficking unit of the public security directorate of the Jordanian police. It works to strengthen cooperation between Jordanian government agencies and international NGOs. Al-Khlaifat contributed to the collaboration between the Ministry of Social Development and the Jordanian Women’s Union, a women’s shelter, to ensure that victims of trafficking receive protection and support services. He has also guided police liaison officers to refugee camps to screen for human trafficking.

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In post-conflict Liberia, the judge Cornelius Wennah contributed to improving the country’s anti-trafficking record. He was sworn in as resident judge earlier this year. He was previously head of criminal crimes and served as a prosecutor in the Department of Justice. In these roles, he investigated, prosecuted and advised on anti-trafficking issues. Wennah has also developed a handbook on trafficking for judges and a handbook for law enforcement and prosecutors on best practices in human trafficking.

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Irena Dawid-Olczyk is a human rights activist and president of La Strada–Poland. La Strada is a European NGO platform against human trafficking. La Strada–Poland, based in Warsaw, works with the Polish government to provide assistance to victims of trafficking. Since the start of the refugee crisis on the Polish-Ukrainian border in February, the organization has prepared guidelines with basic safety rules for refugees from Ukraine and staffed a hotline to respond to dangerous situations that could be linked to human trafficking.

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Apinya Tajit is the Deputy Director of Stella Maris Seafarer’s Center, a Thai NGO that provides services and support to Thai workers in the fishing industry. Tajit educates fishermen from Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Burma and Bangladesh on how to spot trafficking at sea. Tajit also provides assistance to Thai authorities in the victim identification process and helps victims to reintegrate into society.

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Kateryna Cherepakhais the president of La Strada-Ukraine. Since the beginning of Russia’s war against Ukraine, La Strada hotlines have seen a huge increase in calls. Under Cherepakha’s leadership, thousands of Ukrainians were able to access crucial information to protect themselves from trafficking and exploitation.


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