“I didn’t know I was getting into this situation. I came here hoping to work. They sold me the idea of a ‘good life’ and ‘easy money’,” Asa* recounts.
Promised a good job by her trafficker, Asa left her home, which she described as filled with difficulties, and flew to Thailand with a dream of starting a new life. This dream was soon shattered.
Under the control of her trafficker, Asa was forced into sex work. All that she earned was confiscated — an unfortunate reality for many in the same situation.
“We lived a hard life. Sometimes, we couldn't even go outside. They would take our passports.”
Asa knew she needed to find a way out.
Eventually, she came into contact with a staff member from NightLight International, an organization working to reach out to, rescue and restore those who are negatively impacted by human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Initially, in disbelief that there were actually people so willing to help someone in her situation, it wasn’t easy for Asa to accept help at first. The NightLight staff member left her with a phone number she could call should she need any assistance.
So, in 2019, when she was arrested for overstaying her visa, Asa reached out for help to the only organization she knew – NightLight International.
Asa was one of 868 victims of sex and labor trafficking identified by the Royal Thai Government in its Country Report on Anti-Human Trafficking Efforts.
According to Annie Dieselberg, NightLight’s Director and Founder, common factors identified among victims and/or survivors of trafficking are limited socio-economic opportunities, lack of awareness on safe migration channels, and instability or insecurity at home.
“Without a solid, secure foundation, women are vulnerable to dropping out of school at a younger age, getting into unhealthy relationships and looking for opportunities somewhere else,” Dieselberg says. “After being trafficked for a number of years, that’s the life they know. They don’t know other means of making money, and some may end up becoming traffickers themselves.”
To address their needs, NightLight works to provide victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation with holistic care. “The goal is that, in providing these services, we get to know them and build trust. This helps us make referrals to other actors offering support.”
Support can include job training opportunities, aimed at equipping women with skills to support the reintegration back into their communities. Women have benefitted from opportunities in jewelry making, sewing, baking and working at NightLight’s coffee shop.
With victims coming from various backgrounds and countries, strong cooperation is needed to ensure their safe return home. As such, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Thailand works closely with NightLight. Victims who wish to return home can receive support from IOM, including for pre-departure counselling, securing travel documents, return assistance, and socio-economic support to facilitate reintegration back into their communities.
“Our collaboration with civil society partners such as NightLight is critical to our support of national counter-trafficking efforts,” says Among Resi, Programme Officer, Counter-Trafficking, at IOM Thailand. “By building such partnerships with both government and non-government, we can ensure that all victims receive the support they need.”
To empower victims to make an informed decision on their next steps, IOM provides medical and mental health and psychosocial (MHPSS) support and has helped train Nightlight’s staff. “We’ve collaborated with IOM to strengthen our capacities for victim identification and trauma-informed care,” explains Dieselberg.
As survivors work towards reintegrating into their communities, many factors come into play.
“IOM believes that the reintegration of victims of trafficking should be addressed through individual, community and structural level interventions Shared responsibility in delivering assistance is crucial for successful and sustainable reintegration,” highlights Resi.
The role of one’s community cannot be emphasized enough, adds Dieselberg. "People need to realize that trafficking is a community issue, not an individual issue. Everybody has a role to play. We need to think about how we can help reduce vulnerabilities of victims and prevent potential victims from being exploited."
For survivors, hope and trust are crucial to rebuilding their lives. “It’s very important to have a support network. Don't try to do this alone. Find people you can trust and share your stories with, to walk with you,” Dieselberg adds.
Reintegration is not an overnight process. With continuous support, Asa finds herself rediscovering her dignity, regaining her strength and feeling empowered. She is now taking steps towards rebuilding a life far from fear and violence.
“After everything I went through, I have been given hope,” Asa shares. “I feel free.”
* * *
*Name has been changed to protect her identity.
IOM’s counter-trafficking activities in Thailand are financially supported by the European Union, Government of Japan, IOM Development Fund and U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.
This story was written by Dhanabara Kohkaew, Media and Communications Assistant, IOM Thailand.