Earlier this year, Pat (a member of the WDR committee) was invited to see the a glimpse of the work of IJM [WDR Partner] in Cambodia.
My time spent in Cambodia with International Justice Mission (IJM) was very busy! Our journey took 24 hours and although we were only there for only five days, it was a very encouraging time spent with such professional and caring staff in the IJM office.
Pol Pot and the legacy of Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia for almost four years. He tortured and killed so many, particularly anyone educated such as doctors, lawyers, teachers and engineers, in fact even if someone wore glasses they were also killed as he saw them as educated. He was ousted by the Vietnamese in January 1979, however a civil war continued for another two decades, eventually coming to an end in 1999. Most hospitals and education facilities are headed up by foreigners.
The IJM team of staff consists of lawyers, investigators, social workers, community activists and other professionals. So, what did I see in the Cambodia office and throughout Cambodia?
For over a decade the IJM office in Cambodia had been working to reduce the exploitation of children in the sex trade. There were approximately 15-30% of minors, many of them 15 and under, throughout the country and in 2013 this was reduced to 0.1%.
We were driven down a street which is now full of shops, offices and houses that once were almost all brothels. Sex exploitation of children has plummeted, thanks to IJM and other organisations.
IJM staff are now mainly focussed on labour trafficking, particularly with men exploited as slaves in the Thai fishing industry, and women being taken to China by 'bride traffickers'. They are also involved, alongside WorldVision, in the training of police officers on the issue of trafficking. There are senior police officers who have a passion to drastically reduce this crime.
While we were there we sat in on a training session for police officers, had a private meeting with the Chief of Police in the North West of the country, and visited the court where victims give evidence and where many traffickers have been prosecuted. We also got to visit and be part of devotions in a church where the IJM staff are involved in community engagement, led by a young Methodist man.
We spent a full day meeting the staff at IJM HQ; a non-descriptive building with no signs outside- safety and privacy of staff is paramount. We didn’t get to meet the investigators as they had travelled to Thailand to train staff in a new office. We did however get to meet most all others.
We heard from the legal team, finance, translator, investigation department, community engagement and, an area I found extremely interesting, the aftercare team.
I was inspired by Saroeun. He previously worked in a nightclub and was asked to help IJM to investigate those exploiting people into the sex industry. He started studying law and was successful at university. Now he is head of the legal team and an extremely influential, respected and well-known lawyer throughout Cambodia.
The aftercare team is very much involved in caring for those who have gone from being victims to being survivors. They help them when they return home, assist them in any way possible, including helping them to seek employment - the reason why a large number are trafficked in the first place.
I was upset yet inspired to hear the story of ‘Sam’ (not his real name we never got to know that or take photos of him) who had been taken to Thailand to work on a fishing boat. He lives very close to Thai border, and as work is scarce he was ‘taken in’ by an unscrupulous person offering him a job in the Thai fishing industry. He was on a boat that was fishing illegally and was never brought to harbour. The men lived in cramped conditions and were fed little food. They were terrified of the Captain who had a gun, knowingthey could be shot or thrown overboard at anytime so they just kept working. They received no money even though they had been promised a salary, no contact with anyone off the ship. For 6 years, Sam did not see land.
His story was told directly to us with the use of an interpreter. He felt he had been sold however now feels he has been given life again.He has a family and IJM are trying to assist him to secure work. The staff continue to work with those who have been victims and now survivors for a minimum of two years.
I am writing this blog on International Trafficking Awareness Day. Although the stories of victims are difficult to hear and to understand, know that the work done by IJM is truly changing lives.