From Pakistan to Peru: How IVLP TIP Heroes Are Shaping the Fight Against Human Trafficking

The Power of International Collaboration and Best Practices

On June 15, 2023, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken presented eight anti-trafficking in persons (TIP) activists with the 2023 TIP Report Heroes Award. Despite differences in age, language, background, and country of origin, these awardees are committed to holding perpetrators accountable, supporting trafficking survivors, and eliminating the factors contributing to the practices.

Meridian International Center designed and implemented an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) for six of these awardees for the 8th year -- connecting them with their professional counterparts in Washington, DC; Boston, Massachusetts; and Miami, Florida, in connection with their receiving the Award.

Meridian's IVLP TIP Heroes program stands as a beacon of hope in the global fight against human trafficking.

By strengthening the TIP Report Heroes' networks and allowing for the sharing of best practices, Meridian helps ensure that individuals and organizations combatting human trafficking have the resources they need to continue the fight. As we confront the harsh realities of this pervasive crime, it is increasingly evident that a unified, international approach is essential.


Perspective and Best Practices for Countering Human Trafficking

One of the key takeaways from the IVLP TIP Heroes is the significance of a comprehensive, multi-stakeholder approach.

Through the IVLP TIP Heroes program, Meridian intentionally designed a project schedule that allowed the Heroes to meet with experts from various backgrounds working in the human trafficking space. In Washington, Martina Vandenberg, founder and president of the Human Trafficking Legal Center, delivered a keynote address on the human trafficking landscape in the U.S. Mirella Beltram from Polaris Project highlighted the importance of the National Human Trafficking Hotline and countering misinformation. And Amy Vigil, majority staff director for the Subcommittee on Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, discussed relevant federal legislation that empowers the U.S. to better address human trafficking at home and abroad.

2023 TIP Report Hero Zaheer Ahmed from Pakistan highlighted the importance of engagement involving government agencies, civil society, media, academia, and social services in combating human trafficking. Exposing leaders in the anti-trafficking space like himself to different perspectives allowed him and the other awardees to leave the program better informed of the issue's complexities.

The Heroes also recommended implementing victim-centered approaches that prioritize identification and rehabilitation, sustainable funding to anti-trafficking organizations, and leveraging the power of social and electronic media for awareness-raising are other key facets of successful anti-trafficking efforts.


The Importance of International Networks in Combating Human Trafficking

Human trafficking knows no boundaries, and this crime affects nations across the globe, as evidenced by the 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report.

As Ahmed stated, "Human trafficking is not a localized crime anymore…traffickers and victims are of all nationalities."

Because of this, he emphasized the vital role of international networks in addressing this issue and recommended the possible establishment of an international organization for anti-trafficking for Interpol member countries.

Awardee Dara Mech of Cambodia reflected on the network he developed as part of the IVLP program and stated that it allowed him to share successful cases of combatting trafficking in Cambodia, as well as challenges and concerns. Because of the IVLP, he will be able to share these contacts with his friends and community members also involved in the anti-trafficking space so that they can grow the network even more.

Awardee Eumelis Moya from Venezuela told Meridian that her interaction with federal, state, and local government representatives during the program helped her evaluate how she might tailor her anti-trafficking proposals to achieve her goals.

By connecting the 2023 TIP Report Heroes with their U.S. counterparts, the Heroes have gained additional stakeholders in their success who can continue to share expertise, assist in designing anti-trafficking strategies, identify civil society organizations for partnerships, and collaborate on capacity-building initiatives.


The perspectives and experiences of IVLP TIP Heroes underscore the importance of collaboration and knowledge exchange in the fight against human trafficking.

Awardee Paola Hittscher from Peru highlighted some best practices in prevention, prosecution, protection, and assistance that would benefit her awardee class and other anti-trafficking leaders.

In Boston, she took away the importance of having bilingual and diverse anti-trafficking mentors and survivor support staff and the power of emphasizing personal stories of human trafficking in public awareness campaigns. In Miami, her visit to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers showed her the power of preserving cultural identity and highlighting wins against human trafficking to maintain resolve when dealing with struggles and setbacks.

Eumelis Moya from Venezuela emphasized the power of international networks in mitigating trafficking problems. She told Meridian, "Sharing [my experience] with organizations which have had success working with survivors…inspires me to create and implement those models which could greatly help my country."

To effectively counter human trafficking, we must collectively support these efforts. Awardees Basim Abdul-Razzak and Iman Al Sailawi of Iraq said that "The TIP Report Heroes Award places an additional responsibility on us and enables us to take our work to the next level. It raises the bar on us to improve our facilities, build our staff capacity and adopt network methods."

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