Building allies with government institutions and port communities to prevent human trafficking and protect victims

Beds in a safe house

Visayan Forum, Inc. (VF), in cooperation with the Philippine Ports Authority, runs eight unique halfway house facilities in strategic ports throughout the country’s archipelago. In addition to providing center-based services to vulnerable migrants, this partnership helps to combat human trafficking in these seaports by preventing and intercepting potential victims of trafficking and apprehending suspected traffickers.

The Philippines is known to be among the leading sources of migrant workers worldwide. The economy is heavily dependent on the eight million Filipinos working abroad, as are the economies of the countries where these migrant workers are employed. Tens (even hundreds) of thousand of these migrants are trafficked, lured by promises of a better life in the urban centers. Traffickers clandestinely organize their transport operations via different ports and land routes in the Philippines. Worldwide recruitment relies on intricate processes that start in far-flung communities. Traffickers operate in underground networks with strong connections to corrupt public officials and transport operators.

VF worked to address these challenges by building cooperation with the Philippine Ports Authority and Manila International Airport Authority to run eight unique 24-hour facilities. At these ports, VF has also organized and built the capacity of the Anti-Trafficking Task Force composed of law enforcement officials like the coast guard, maritime police, stevedoring workers group, and private companies. VF provides regular trainings to private shipping companies and the shipping crews to help in the process of identification of possible victims onboard their vessels and in the ticket counters. Private companies and donors have also provided resources for the establishment of the safe-haven facilities.[1] This initiative was also replicated in airports in cooperation with the Manila International Airport Authority.

These safe-haven halfway houses are located in strategic seaports and airports which assist VF in documenting cases of trafficking within the country and cases bound for abroad. In the halfway houses, teams of social workers and field organizers provide a wide variety of services including:

  • Emergency temporary shelter towards reintegration;
  • Informational assistance about travel, employment and possible support networks;
  • Quick referral of cases, including legal remediation;
  • Telephone hotline counseling;
  • Regular outreach for stranded passengers;
  • Training and advocacy to port community members such as the police, coast guard, shipping crew, porters and security guards.

In its efforts to prevent human trafficking VF cooperates closely with the Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Social Welfare and Development in order to verify quickly recruiters' work permits as to the legality of employment agencies and workplace destinations, and to provide repatriation and reintegration assistance to intercepted victims and potential victims of child trafficking. It also works with the Department of Justice for the prosecution of cases against traffickers.

In its ongoing relations with the Philippine Ports Authority and other governmental institutions, VF has taken tangible steps to prevent human trafficking and apprehend traffickers. As a result of these alliances, VF has been able to document 12,800 cases of trafficking and/or attempted trafficking, and 68,000 migrants have received services in the program to date.

Visayan Forum, Inc. (VF) is a non-profit organization in the Philippines. VF is located in 20 provinces and cities with 11 offices in the Philippines. It is known for its work with vulnerable migrants, especially victims of human trafficking, domestic servitude, and other forms of exploitation. VF has influenced the passage of numerous local ordinances on human trafficking and those that promote the welfare of domestic workers. VF also provides residential care and community-based programs and services for women and children in especially difficult circumstances.

[1] Source:
Image above is of the Visayan safe house, found at the webpage above.

New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

What we can learn from this tactic: 

To implement this tactic in a different context, it is necessary to build a strong collaboration among state institutions, nonprofit organizations and private companies, including workers groups, like stevedores (those responsible for loading and unloading ships). Additionally, it is vital that victims of trafficking can find a “safe-haven” where they can be supported, counseled, and empowered to reintegrate in their communities. Additional tactics can be explored for addressing the root causes of trafficking.