Human Trafficking Highlighted By U.S. Official’s Visit To RMI

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

State Department report has country at lowest ranking

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Dec. 2, 2015) – Concern about trafficking in persons was highlighted in Majuro by the visit of Jennifer Hong, the reports and political affairs officer at the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, late last week.

Hong, who oversees production of annual trafficking in persons reports for 19 Asia and Pacific nations, was making her first visit to the Marshall Islands. She met with many key players on the issue while in Majuro, including members of the Marshall Islands anti-trafficking task force. Currently, the Marshall Islands is the only Pacific island country on "Tier 3" in the State Department ranking — the worst rank.

"There has been more effort (on this issue) in the Marshall Islands this past year," she said. "I hope the momentum continues."

Earlier this year, the government’s cabinet named a National Taskforce on Human Trafficking, which has submitted a draft national action plan that is waiting for endorsement.

"Prevention, protection, prosecution and partnership against human trafficking require vigilance from everyone," William Fife, a task force representative who directs the Micronesian Legal Services office in Majuro, said Tuesday. He said the taskforce has conducted awareness raising sessions on human trafficking for over 1,200 people in high schools, government agencies, non-government groups, and communities in Ebeye and Majuro. The State Department provided funding to the International Organization for Migration, one of the taskforce members, to develop the national plan.

Hong noted the importance of a national plan to combat trafficking. The proposed national plan, once approved by government, will establish goals for future efforts, she said.

The Marshall Islands neighbor Federated States of Micronesia was on the "Tier 3 Watch List" last year, but improved its anti-trafficking program and was raised to "Tier 2" in the current year report. The Marshalls was on "Tier 2 Watch List" for two years and then dropped further to "Tier 3" this past year. Papua New Guinea was on "Tier 3" last year, but improved to "Tier 2 Watch List" in this year’s report.

The annual trafficking report is issued by the State Department in June. In addition to visiting nations she is responsible for to collect first hand information, Hong said she gets the latest updates from U.S. embassies in the 19 countries, including the Marshall Islands, in February to prepare the annual report.

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