Weaving nets

10/28/2016 San José, Costa Rica, Elisa writes:

Observing (and understanding) human trafficking

National Forum on Human Trafficking, San José

A few months ago, after a trip to Costa Rica, I was waiting for my return flight to El Salvador and was pleasantly surprised to find out that one dollar of the exit charges I was paying would be devolved to the National Fund against Trafficking. What an important measure! Indeed, every year many tourists visit Costa Rica and, in addition to the economic impact of the initiative, it is important, in my opinion, to give visibility to this issue in a strategic place like the airport. On that occasion, I started to think about the existing link between tourism, human trafficking and exploitation, both of the migrant and local population, in the Costa Rican context. Increase in tourism represents an important factor for the country’s economic growth but, on the other hand, it could play a role in the exploitation of the most vulnerable categories of the population. 

Unbelievably, a month has already passed since I began my stage at the IOM’s national office in Costa Rica. It has been an exciting and busy period: I have met and got in contact with some important institutional stakeholders in the framework of the fight and prevention of human trafficking in Costa Rica. Among these, there is Observa la Trata (Observing Trafficking), the Latin American Observatory of Human Trafficking and Smuggling. It includes different kinds of institutions, like Universities, civil organizations and members of the CONATT (the National Commission against Trafficking and Smuggling). Observa la Trata’s main goal is assessing systematically and regularly the phenomenon of human trafficking in Latin America (particularly in Costa Rica) from a human rights based approach. All of Central America is a region of origin, transit and destination for victims of human trafficking. Costa Rica in not an exception: the majority of the victims is involved in sexual and domestic work exploitation, in particular in the northern part of the country and in the Pacific seaside communities.

The Observatory promotes a number of initiatives aimed at fostering dialogue, interest and investigation on human trafficking in Costa Rica, from a multidisciplinary approach. It is in this spirit that on October 6th the third edition of the National Forum on Human Trafficking took place in San José. This year’s edition was entitled “Risks and challenges for Costa Rica facing human trafficking and smuggling of migrants”. The variety speakers at the event reflects the desire to fully tackle this complex problem and the need to evaluate the situation from different points of view: the existing link between trafficking and smuggling, the penal prosecution of the crime, the conditions at the borders, the need to provide victims with qualified psycho-social assistance. The forum was an important opportunity to discuss and reflect on causes, effects and features of human trafficking in Costa Rica. In particular, the key role of awareness-building was stressed: it is essential to train law enforcement (in particular in the border zones) to identify possible victims. However, training “insiders” is not enough: it is equally important to increase awareness in the whole society. This is precisely why the Observatory organized a photography contest entitled “Visualizing human trafficking and smuggling of migrants in Costa Rica”, to document the different forms of trafficking and exploitation that we see every day but maybe are not able to observe. The winners were awarded during the forum and the photos can be seen at the following link: http://www.observatoriotrata.ac.cr/node/295



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