IMPACT Project to Build Awareness, Capacity for Overseas Filipinx Workers

IMPACT Project to Build Awareness, Capacity for Overseas Filipinx Workers

Despite sincere efforts by the Philippine Government to protect Overseas Filipinx Workers (OFWs), human trafficking is especially prevalent in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). Weaker institutions, inadequately equipped personnel, and lack of community awareness pose significant challenges to effective anti-trafficking in persons (TIP) efforts. Low awareness of the risks connected to labor migration – along with the common conflation of human trafficking, smuggling, other forms of irregular migration, or other crimes – causes victims not to self-identify as such, and vulnerable communities not to recognize the warning signs. 

With funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, GFEMS is working to address the challenges in BARMM by partnering with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to build awareness of trafficking among the at-risk communities of BARMM and build capacity for pre-departure training service providers. IOM has a large team on the ground in BARMM, impressive expertise in local dynamics, and a previous history of successful awareness campaigns in the region.

To build awareness among vulnerable communities, IOM will work directly with the most at-risk populations to develop key messages that will be delivered through community-led awareness raising campaigns. These campaigns will primarily focus on behavioral change communications using the latest in evidence-driven communications techniques. These campaigns will target prospective migrants with little understanding of the risk of migration in order to equip them with the knowledge to increase their resilience.

GFEMS and IOM will also work to build the capacity of service providers, enabling them to train prospective labor migrants on labor migration risks, and ensure those migrants have knowledge of and access to quality support and resources, and are more resilient in the face of TIP risks and drivers. The capacity building process includes facilitating regular in-region meetings among government stakeholders to provide them with more data collection, analysis, and reporting opportunities, which will ultimately result in more evidence-based decision making and more effective anti-TIP government initiatives. In parallel, IOM will work with service providers to develop context-specific orientation materials for departing migrants, further optimizing pre-departure training.

Over the course of the project, GFEMS and IOM will conduct extensive learning and evaluation activities to determine the effectiveness of the interventions. Questions explored in the project will include: 

  • Does providing context-sensitized, pre-departure orientation material improve reach among vulnerable OFWs?
  • Do targeted, context-sensitive community engagement and awareness initiatives increase awareness of TIP risks and drivers among at-risk communities?
  • Is it possible to create early warning systems at the community level that allow us to identify individuals, families, and social segments who are most at-risk of TIP?
  • To what extent is BARMM able to influence unsafe migration dynamics that transcend its borders? 

GFEMS looks forward to sharing more information about this project as it is implemented, and is grateful for the support of the U.S. Department of State and the partnership of IOM. 

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This article and the IOM project were funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.

Victim-Centered Case Management System Launches in Philippines, Streamlining Response from Government Agencies

Victim-Centered Case Management System Launches in Philippines, Streamlining Response from Government Agencies

The complex inter-agency coordination that must take place to ensure effective prosecutions and survivor services have been a significant barrier to delivery of justice for human trafficking cases. Khrizzy Avila, GFEMS Country Coordinator for the Philippines, states that “Labor trafficking cases involving Overseas Filipinx Workers (OFWs) are often complex and require quick and appropriate actions from multiple government agencies. These types of cases are often left unacted upon or suffer from major delays in agency responses. As a result, trafficked OFWs are often denied access to justice and grievance mechanisms and they lose interest in pursuing cases against their traffickers.”

With the launch of the Integrated Case Management System (ICMS), important strides are being made to address this longstanding issue. The ICMS is a digital case management system that tracks trafficking cases involving OFWs, ensures a harmonized and victim-centered response, and improves inter-agency coordination. As Avila stated, “The ICMS is the first of its kind to provide Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) member agencies with the tools to fully integrate their actions and services for trafficked OFWs.”

With support from GFEMS, the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute, Inc. is making significant headway on implementing the ICMS with government agencies in the Philippines. Key government agencies are now partnering with the Ople Center to clear the backlog of cases and move towards using the system as a contemporaneous case management system. It will be used by government agencies to pursue cases against human traffickers, while ensuring proper legal, repatriation, and reintegration assistance is delivered to OFW victims. Specifically, the ICMS facilitates survivors’ access to services such as counseling, temporary shelter, education, and livelihood programs. Avila says, “The system tracks the services delivered to OFWs after government caseworkers and social workers assess their needs. Service providers are able to recommend specific types of services, and endorse their access to available facilities.”

The ICMS exemplifies the Fund’s vision of combating modern slavery by leveraging the power of technology. The Ople Center and GFEMS hope to increase the reach of the ICMS by raising awareness, resources, and expanding its use to region-specific task forces. Soon, online trainings and refresher courses will be added. The ICMS developers will continue to make changes based on feedback from participants. Eventually, the program will be available not only for OFW cases, but for all survivors of human trafficking.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the ICMS has proved even more crucial because government officials and other stakeholders are working remotely and the number of cases is increasing exponentially. Avila explains, “The ICMS is a great step forward in providing better care and services to OFW-victims of trafficking in persons. The ICMS launch this year has been particularly relevant due to current limitations brought on by community quarantine and the lockdown of government offices. There is a more compelling need to respond to cases and deliver services online than ever before.”

The ICMS aims to create a coherent, comprehensive mechanism of action that will combat slavery at its core and end impunity for traffickers. Avila concludes, “The ICMS will empower the OFWs or their next of kin in managing their own cases and charting their own paths for healing and reintegration. They will have knowledge about the status of their cases, which agencies are doing what, and the reasons for any delays. The ICMS will enable the trafficked OFWs to become more active participants in their pursuit for justice.” Through multi-stakeholder partnerships and more responsive complaint and reintegration mechanisms, GFEMS and the Ople Center are fighting back against exploitation and ensuring that all exploited people have access to justice.

To stay updated on this project, and projects like it, subscribe to the GFEMS newsletter and follow us on Twitter.


This article and the Ople Center project were funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State

World Day Against Trafficking Roundup: What leaders are saying

World Day Against Trafficking Roundup: What leaders are saying

Today, World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, GFEMS is sharing insights from global anti-trafficking leaders with our global community. We asked a series of leaders to answer one of the following three questions:

  1. What does the World Day Against TIP mean to you? What do you hope to see accomplished?
  2. 2020 has been a year unlike any other. Why is this year’s day against TIP especially important?
  3. How should people at home recognize the World Day Against TIP? What are some appropriate and effective actions to support the cause?

Here’s what they had to say:


“In a year of acute financial distress with regards to incomes in rural India, the Day against TIP takes on additional importance, as it’s a call for action to support endeavours that can mitigate these risks and save futures for the most vulnerable. “


“The Knoble is a growing network of fraud, cyber, fintech, and financial crime professionals with a passion for protecting vulnerable populations, particularly those at risk for human trafficking.  We proudly partner with and support the organizations and individuals who act as first responders. We join them in envisioning a world where no one can profit off the suffering of other human beings, and we seek to create system-wide networks to disrupt the illicit flow of money through the world’s financial systems.”


“The pandemic that began in 2020 will have short, medium and long term impacts on the problem of human trafficking and modern slavery. This year’s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons is an opportunity to highlight the resilience and efforts of the anti-trafficking community as it works to mitigate the new and increased risks for victims, survivors and vulnerable populations created by COVID-19. The community’s many new ways of working during this pandemic will lead to policy and practice innovations that, longer-term, will mean great leaps forward in our shared goal of ending trafficking and slavery.” 


“I hope to see a continuation, if not an escalation, in global conversations about modern slavery amid and beyond this pandemic. I wish to see a stronger push towards technology-driven tools to combat slavery similar to the newly-launched Integrated Case Management System that we have in the Philippines. And, finally, I hope that States will ensure the safety, rights, and protection of migrants around the world especially of foreign domestic workers.”


“As lockdowns were imposed around the world, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has placed an enormous strain on already highly vulnerable communities. The resulting economic fallout has placed people who are at high risk of exploitation even more at risk. Families will be forced to take ever more desperate decisions, high-interest loans and risky job offers. There is no question that the pandemic and the economic crisis it has caused will lead to an increase in trafficking. This year it will be critical for all organisations that work to combat slavery and trafficking to adjust their longer-term programs to this new reality.”


“There are increasing concerns that the economic cost imposed on the world due to COVID and the lockdowns could exacerbate vulnerabilities in the most marginalized sections of society. And this can have outsized consequences on the safety and security of children – they might become easier targets for traffickers preying on the economic desperation of families who have lost their livelihoods or taken loans they can’t pay back. This is why in 2020, TIP is more critical than ever, to remind us that there are invisible victims of this pandemic that go beyond the obvious, and our focus on them needs to be redoubled.”


“Discuss the issue at home and recognise the scale of the problem, with tens of millions of people suffering in forced labour. Secondly, look out for and report suspicious activity that might be linked to modern slavery and trafficking. Thirdly, dig into your favourite brands and see how they do regarding forced labour and mapping their supply chains. If a company scores badly – consider using the huge power of your wallet to support companies who are doing more to deal with this issue.”


“For me, the World Day Against TIP is a reminder that we have a lot more work ahead of us to accomplish our goals of eradicating modern slavery.  I hope that this day becomes an annual day of remembrance for those lost to modern slavery and for the atrocities of the past. We have to end all forms of modern slavery. Until we do, I hope the day is one of many motivations for us, as a global community, to work tirelessly towards every individual’s access to freedom.”


“COVID-19 has exacerbated the risk of debt-induced trafficking for the economically vulnerable and marginalised populations across the globe. This year’s World Day Against TIP highlights the much-required collaboration between society, governments, private sector, NGOs, philanthropies, and media to ensure that every individual lives a dignified life that is free of trafficking and exploitation. It is essential that empathy and equity be the guiding values so that a brighter future can be envisaged in the new normal.”


“Traffickers make $150 billion each year from the forced labour of their victims. That forced labour makes things for the supply chains of companies we invest in through stock markets and pension funds, and the profits go into the banking system. So ask yourself, your bank, your broker or your retirement asset manager: Are we unwittingly funding human trafficking?”


“It is fitting to see that in 2020 the UN will focus on ‘first responders to human trafficking’ to recognize the frontline folks who counsel, provide support, help victims to access remedy, and help survivors to heal, to re-gain confidence and to re-integrate sustainably over the long term. It is amazing to witness the dedication of those assisting victims during this time of COVID-19 to overcome challenging restrictions. While it is tragic that almost 17 million have been directly and millions more indirectly affected by COVID, it is heartening during these dark times to see how people do their part against the odds.”


“World Day always reminds me how much more needs to be done to protect everyone, everywhere, from human trafficking. This year, many migrants have been hit hard by COVID-19, and many more will become vulnerable to exploitation as the economic consequences of the pandemic unfold. While most migrants will continue to show extraordinary resilience, we must redouble our efforts to ensure that nobody is left behind.”


“This is a day to renew our commitment to global coordination and to rededicate ourselves to creating a coherent global strategy that includes governments, businesses, the financial sector, NGOs, and civil society in a way that brings the full force of the world down on traffickers to end this crime once and for all. Let’s forge partnerships, collaborate openly, share results freely, and knit together a real anti-slavery movement. We at the Fund are in this fight with you!”

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Philippines Partners Assist Bahrain in Conviction of Eight Traffickers, Guilty of Trafficking Two OFWs

Philippines Partners Assist Bahrain in Conviction of Eight Traffickers, Guilty of Trafficking Two OFWs

Through tireless efforts, the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and the Philippines Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) Task Force on Trafficking of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), under a partnership with GFEMS, and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) of the Philippines, have achieved a landmark prosecution of eight traffickers. A conviction of the traffickers, who were responsible for the forced prostitution of two Filipina women, was handed down in Bahrain in April 2020. 

The victims, two women who had been working in Dubai in 2018, were trafficked when they responded to the perpetrators’ fraudulent offer of better jobs in Bahrain. Upon their arrival in Bahrain, they were confined in a building and forced into commercial sex for several months before escaping.

On April 28, a Bahrain court sentenced each of the convicted trafficking offenders to seven years imprisonment and a fine of 5,000 dinars each, equivalent to USD $5,300.  The convicted include five Filipina women and two Filipino men who recruited the women through fraudulent offers of legitimate work and oversaw their enslavement in an illegal brothel in Bahrain, as well as a Bahraini police officer who was complicit in the trafficking scheme. 

The new IACAT Task Force, of which the DFA is an active member, established in early 2019 as part of the Blas F. Ople Center’s partnership with GFEMS, under a grant from the U.S. government, was instrumental in achieving the successful justice outcome through the use of a case conference approach. The IACAT Task Force secured strong evidence from the two victims which it shared with Bahrain, leading to the successful prosecution in the Gulf State.  The two managed to escape the syndicate to return to the Philippines where they approached the Ople Center for legal assistance. 

Key leaders in the response included the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Under Secretary for Overseas Workers, Ms. Sarah Arriola, who effectively used diplomatic channels in the absence of a formal Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with Bahrain and Ausamah AlAbsi, Chairman of Bahrain’s National Committee to Combat Trafficking in Persons, and a 2018 TIP Report Hero, who led Bahrain’s cooperation. 

GFEMS is proud to be a partner of the Blas F. Ople Center, led by OFW protection champion Susan Ople, and the member agencies of the IACAT Task Force on Trafficking of OFWs.

This article was funded in part by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.