Trafficking in human beings – commonly abbreviated as THB – is the modern-day form of slavery. It affects countries undergoing significant economic and/or political transformations or conflicts. Links have been found between criminal networks involved in human trafficking and those trafficking drugs and weapons. Individuals facing economic or social challenges, and thus keen to seek a better life, oftentimes satisfy an ever-increasing demand for cheap labour and sexual services in more affluent regions. Traffickers make use of threats, force, and other forms of coercion, including fraud and deception, to manipulate their victims. Victims – in turn – end up being exploited for traffickers’ profit and are time and again forced into work, which they disagree to perform due to its inhumane and degrading nature.

IOM’s global programmatic approach 

IOM’s operations are premised on the idea that trafficking in human beings needs to be addressed within the overall context of migration management. Its broad range of activities is implemented in partnership with the Host Government and civil society, international organisations and the donor community. IOM is building innovative alliances, such as those with businesses and youth, with a view to producing and delivering creative solutions to human trafficking prevention and response.

The IOM’s programmatic approach is based on 3 fundamental principles underpinning its counter-trafficking interventions:

  • respect for human rights;
  • physical, mental and social well-being of the individual and his/her community;
  • sustainability of IOM actions through institutional capacity development and partnerships.

IOM’s vision

In line with countries’ development priorities and building on its global presence, IOM strengthens capacities of its partners from the government and civil society, and sets operational standards to achieve sustainable results that will:

  • protect and empower trafficked women and men, girls and boys
  • raise awareness of human trafficking and its underlining risks
  • bring justice to trafficked persons

IOM Belarus counter-trafficking operations

It is since 2002 that IOM has been implementing its counter-trafficking programmes across Belarus in close cooperation with the government, non-governmental and international organizations, the private sector and development partners. 

The local IOM support package is built upon a four-tier programmatic approach – also known as the 4 “Ps” approach – to address the interrelated aspects of human trafficking:

  • Prevention and advocacy through awareness raising among at-risk groups
  • Prosecution of criminals, criminalization and thematic technical cooperation
  • Protection and reintegration of victims of trafficking
  • Partnerships

IOM Belarus implements the following activities in the counter-trafficking sphere:

Reintegration of victims of trafficking

IOM Belarus reintegration efforts are based on the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, supplementing the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime (also known as the Palermo protocol). Victims are identified and referred to IOM by a variety of partners.

During the initial phase, referred persons are interviewed by IOM to determine whether they could be qualified as victims of trafficking (VoTs) according to the definition of human trafficking spelled out in the Protocol.

In case the person has been indeed trafficked, following a needs-assessment IOM could render the following assistance:

  • Airport reception and transfer upon arrival in Belarus;
  • Escort and travel assistance to the final destination in Belarus;
  • Overnight accommodation while receiving healthcare or while in transit;
  • Legal assistance in civil matters (e.g. divorce, retrieval of property, civil liability etc.);
  • Legal consultation services to VoTs serving as witnesses in criminal lawsuits;
  • Healthcare treatment;
  • Psychological counselling;
  • Reintegration grants to support the victims for the first three months after their return;
  • Employment counselling and grants for vocational training to facilitate effective socio-economic reintegration of trafficking survivors;
  • Other required assistance determined on a case-by-case basis.

Since 2002, over 4,000 VoTs received reintegration and rehabilitation assistance from IOM Belarus and its local NGO partners.

Rehabilitation of victims of trafficking

Since 2006 IOM Belarus has been running the country’s only Rehabilitation centre for VoTs. The centre has become a safe refuge where trafficking survivors – both male and female – and, upon request, their children receive comprehensive reintegration assistance and protection spanning from medical, psychological, humanitarian and legal assistance to support with vocational trainings and employment opportunities.  All services at the Rehabilitation Centre are provided with due respect for the person’s freedom of choice, privacy and under strict confidentiality.

From 2006 onwards, over 1,160 VoTs have received an access to the Centre rehabilitation and reintegration support and protection. 

National NGO network support

To ensure enhanced collaboration and alignment of civil society actors across the counter-traffiking agenda, IOM Belarus has established a national network of non-governmental organizations involved in traffiking prevention and response in every region of Belarus. As such, IOM supports the counter-trafficking initiatives of the NGOs targeted at at-risk groups as well as provision of reintegration assistance to victims by the NGOs.

Economic empowerment of vulnerable groups in Belarus

IOM Belarus in cooperation with its NGOs’ network provides sustainable socio-economic empowerment to vulnerable groups by conducting capacity building activities aimed at ensuring sustainability in their future life. Networking trips, round tables, summer camps, job-seeking fairs are organized to expand economic opportunities and boost personal development of at-risk groups’ representatives.

Human trafficking prevention 

IOM Belarus together with its NGO partner network conducts on a regular basis information campaigns with a focus on counter trafficking and raising public awareness on the issue. Delivery of lectures in various regions of Belarus for vulnerable groups, seminars, training courses, study trips, production and dissemination of printed and e-materials, placement of billboards, creation of public service announcements, work with mass media, including the national TV, and other information activities serve as an effective tool for increasing general public’s awareness about the THB phenomenon and its grave consequences.

Amid an increasing number of cases of child sexual exploitation and abuse in Belarus and globally – somewhat further fueled by COVID-19 – IOM Belarus has responded with a package of awareness-raising activities with the flagship “Teach Children to See Lies” campaign at the top of the list. Released in 2019 and relaunched in 2020, the campaign is aimed at preventing child sexual exploitation and sexual abuse at its root cause by appealing to parents and urging them to be attentive to their children, talk to them and build trust to prevent them from being tricked by traffickers and abusers. A dedicated website, among others, a thematic online game for kids and their parents as well as a 3 series’ YouTube talk show with experts and local celebrities serve the purpose of preventing and responding to cases of child sexual exploitation.

Support of the nation-wide hotline on safe migration

Since February 2003, IOM Belarus has been supporting the functioning of a hotline on safe travel and stay abroad administered by partner NGO “Business Women Club Brest”. In January 2005, the hotline was converted into a toll-free service to ensure Belarusian and foreign migrants’ wider access to free quality counseling on safe travel and migration abroad to minimize their human trafficking risks. Alongside phone consultations, the counselling is delivered online. 

Given COVID-19 implications for human mobility, in April 2020 IOM expanded the range of hotline services to target returned and stranded migrants with comprehensive counseling on COVID-impacted country-specific entry, exit, stay procedures and healthcare services; vulnerable migrants in need of assisted voluntary return support are identified and referred to IOM for further assistance of that kind. 

After the start of the war in Ukraine, in 2022 the hotline also started to provide information on entry to, transit through, exit from Belarus with regards to the war, as well as to consult on the types of assistance available to refugees and migrants in Belarus.

The hotline services are available from 8:00 to 20:00 every day at 113 (for landline calls from Belarus) , 8 801 201 5555 (for mobile calls from Belarus) and +375 162 21 8888 (for calls from abroad). The calls are toll free for the citizens of Belarus. The hotline counselling in the English language is available from 8.00 to 20.00 on Thursday and Sunday. 

Up to date, more than 40,000 beneficiaries have received hotline counselling, both phone and virtual, across an array of queries ranging from safe travel and stay abroad rules and recommendations, countries’ visa, entry and stay policies, labour and civil rights abroad, including contractual arrangements, marriage registration, document legalization, apostil, COVID-19 travel advice, and beyond. 

Support to developing and strengthening the National Referral Mechanism for victims of trafficking

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is a social and legal framework for the protection of human rights and legal interests of victims of human trafficking. The key to a well-functioning NRM is the solid cooperation between governmental and non-governmental stakeholders, which is the most effective way to assist victims and prevent the least protected members of the society from falling into the trap of trafficking.  

IOM Belarus has been supporting the efforts of the government of Belarus in building and stepping up a functional and sustainable National Referral Mechanism in the country. An effective NRM will allow for a wider access to protection and assistance facilities for victims of human trafficking. 

The introduction of a social sub-contraction system, in particular, Social Quality Standards (SQS), constitute as a crucial element of the NRM. The standards are defined as a “set of minimum norms, which care givers’ services should comply with and which can be further used to measure and evaluate the quality of counter-trafficking work”, i.e. to assess whether the services provided are adequate, sufficient and professional. The SQS serve as a guarantee that the services offered to trafficked persons are fully in line with the international and national legislation/rules. The standards can be used by clients, non-governmental and governmental stakeholders, including those responsible for sub-contracting NGOs. In its ongoing projects, IOM Belarus is involved in promoting the Social Quality Standards through involving NGO partners and thematic experts.

Alongside this, for awareness raising purposes, IOM produced SOPs video guidelines to be disseminated among stakeholders involved in combatting human trafficking in Belarus. 

Increasing effectiveness and building capacities of law-enforcement in THB crimes investigation processes

In order to increase the effectiveness and strengthen capacities of law-enforcement agencies dealing with human trafficking response, IOM Belarus has been consistently designing and delivering capacity building interventions bringing in best international expertise with a focus on emerging needs and trends, viz. child exploitation, human trafficking with the use of IT, etc. This includes English language courses for law enforcement and NGOs, introduction of a THB academic course into university curricula, networking study visits, trainings, roundtable discussions, regional dialogues. 

International Training Centre for Migration and Combating Trafficking in Human Beings (ITC)

The International Training Centre for Migration and Combating Trafficking in Human Beings (ITC) was opened on July 19, 2007 as a joint initiative of the government of Belarus and IOM.

The Centre received an official recognition as a CIS-approved institution for training and raising professional qualifications of the CIS states’ personnel in the sphere of migration and combating human trafficking.

Nowadays, the ITC attracts a great deal of international interest both within and beyond the region, and hosts a large number of trainings and seminars on an annual basis – all involving leading international experts and pioneers in the field. The very existence, as well as an effective operation of the ITC helps to strengthen national capacities and that of other CIS countries in combating trafficking in human beings by means of providing continuous specialized training for the counter trafficking personnel from the respective law-enforcement agencies.

Research & knowledge

IOM Belarus released a number of publications mostly devoted to the various emerging trends of trafficking, such as: labour exploitation, child pornography in the Internet, responsibility of clients of sexual services alongside other actual THB-related trends in Belarus and beyond. Publications are intended for professional use and available upon request.