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Governments and anti-trafficking organizations responded to the increased vulnerabilities due to the pandemic through efforts to reduce the risk of trafficking and expand protection measures for victims. Some countries automatically extended temporary and transitory visas for migrant workers, while others suspended fines for unauthorized stays or extended medical coverage to anyone awaiting a decision on their immigration status. The Government of Thailand issued a Cabinet Resolution in August 2020 that made it easier to obtain new work permits and provided extensions for migrants working in Thailand. The Government of Maldives incorporated questions on labor exploitation and unethical recruitment into health screenings and COVID-19 contact tracing for all foreign workers. In June 2020, the Government of Sri Lanka approved a National COVID-19 Response Plan for Migrant Workers that covered prevention and the protection of trafficking victims, while the UK government extended public-funded safe accommodation for current victims and survivors for an additional three months. Similarly, the Australian Border Force issued an information sheet on modern slavery and COVID-19 that provided guidance on how to reduce the risk of workers becoming more vulnerable to human traffickers as a result of the pandemic. In Zimbabwe, local anti-trafficking organizations developed isolation cabins at three shelters to continue supporting individuals waiting for their COVID-19 test results without putting existing shelter residents at risk. The tendency of this pandemic to aggravate hardship requires the responsible implementation of increased protection measures that are responsive to the needs of individuals with coexisting vulnerabilities to human trafficking and COVID-19 infection.
Crises disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, exacerbating the conditions for victims of human trafficking and increasing the risk of human trafficking for others. Successful counter-measures often require anti-trafficking actors to build upon existing crisis frameworks and promising practices to include anti-trafficking responses that are trauma-informed and victim-centered. The Jordanian police counter-trafficking unit worked with UNODC to implement a coordinated COVID-19 mitigation plan to protect first responders by procuring sanitation materials, protective equipment, medical kits, and COVID-19 testing units. In response to the risks of carrying out in-person research activities in communities that are vulnerable to both COVID-19 and trafficking, Freedom Fund drew on multisectoral best practices and guidance to create criteria for determining whether in-person research during COVID-19 can be safely conducted, as well as health and safety procedures to ensuring safe interactions. The criteria and procedures were designed to minimize risks to project team members and research participants by considering the best-available national and project-level information and the latest public health recommendations for COVID-19 mitigation. Other collaborative efforts have provided anti-trafficking stakeholders, including service providers, investigators, prosecutors, and first responders, with the tools, equipment, and guidance to protect themselves against and screen for the virus, which is essential to ensuring the health and safety of victims, survivors, and vulnerable populations.
To navigate the challenges posed by stretched resources, competing priorities, and reduced capacity or political will of governments to combat trafficking, governments and NGOs should consider systemically integrating anti-trafficking efforts into existing response plans and practices in humanitarian and crisis contexts. Governments and other anti-trafficking organizations are already taking action to weave anti-trafficking measures into crisis responses. For example, IOM has developed resources for its staff to incorporate anti-trafficking into its own work in humanitarian and other emergency settings. In addition, IOM developed free, publicly available tools, such as its online course, Countering Human Trafficking in Humanitarian Settings and its publication, Counter-Trafficking in Emergencies: Information Management Guide, to encourage humanitarians, government staff, anti-trafficking experts, and others to integrate anti-trafficking into their response work routinely. When responding to the impacts of the COVID-19 virus, it is important that those working on safety and security measures are equipped with the knowledge and resources to identify and refer cases of human trafficking. For example, training on trafficking indicators should be expanded to healthcare workers, such as those supporting COVID-19 testing and vaccination efforts as they might be the few people a victim could interact with in public. 1e1e36bf2d