Human Trafficking: an NGO perspective

What’s up fellow Black Sheep I hope all is well. Today I am going to share with you an experience of mine while completing my undergraduate degree. I have worked in many different environments ranging from veterans to kids in K-12. My final internship was the most challenging. Global problems usually begin locally, and slowly become a global issue. This is why today I want to talk about human trafficking and the role of non-government organizations.

Non-government organization (NGO)

A non-government organization is a group of individuals who work independent of any governments to help tackle social issues. NGOs exist locally, nationally, and internationally. Non-government organizations differ from NGO to NGO.

NGOs provide humanitarian assistance, combat corruption, highlight human rights violations and much more.

Typically, if there is a need around the world, an NGO usually exist to help alleviate some of the burden.

Personally, I learned about NGOs while in college while doing my undergrad in Politics and Global Studies. I became fascinated with them and wanted to intern for one.

At the time, I didn’t have the funds to travel abroad like many others. Luckily through a classmate I learned about the International Rescue Committee also known as the IRC.

Human Trafficking: an NGO perspective

Non-government organization: International Rescue Committee

“The International Rescue Committee- a non-profit, non-sectarian, voluntary agency providing assistance to refugees around the world- responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people to survive and rebuild their lives” (IRC).

The IRC’s impact began in 1933, at the request of Albert Einstein in response to humanitarian crises after WW1 and WW2.

Thanks to the services of the IRC, 1.7 million people had access to clean water and sanitation, 21 million people have gained access to healthcare resources, 420,000 students were able to attend class, 23,000 jobs have been generated, and 7000 new refugees will find a home in the United States each year.

The IRC also has programs that most people aren’t familiar with such as the Survivors of Torture program that provides comprehensive case management for victims.

The same program also is in charge for screening newly arrived refugees for domestic violence incidents.

I searched and found a program known as the “Arizona League to End Regional Trafficking” or ALERT. I applied and was accepted as an intern.

Human trafficking: ALERT Program

The purpose of the ALERT program is to provide comprehensive case management for victims of human trafficking. The mission is to build up their confidence to become self-sufficient and to pursue meaningful lives. This includes providing job training, resume writing, English classes, child care, and other resources.

Victims also qualify for what is known as a “Trafficking Visa” or T-Visa that qualify them for other benefits such as a monthly stipend. Although it is temporary while their case is being resolved in court, it allows victims up to 4 years to reside in the United States.

The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 allows the IRC and other recipients benefit to assist victims. Law enforcement also benefits because it gives them more authority if they suspect someone is a victim of trafficking.

IRC in Arizona         

The IRC here in Phoenix began in 1993 to help resettle refugees. ALERT came into existence in 2003 and is 1 of the first 3 anti-trafficking programs with the IRC in the United States, and only 6 remain. ALERT is the only agency in Arizona that serves foreign national regardless of legal status and also serve victims of sex and labor trafficking. Another interesting fact is almost half of our clients have been male (slavery).

A hub for the wrong reasons

Arizona is a well-known hub for trafficking, and according to the IRC:

“Large cases involving hundreds of victims identified in California, Florida, and New York revealed that the vast majority of victims had met their trafficker or been trafficked through Arizona.”

Human Trafficking: an NGO perspective

What is Human Trafficking?

According to the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, Human Trafficking is defined as:

“the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for a labor or services, through the use of fraud or coercion, for this purpose of subjecting that person into involuntary solitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.”

All of the clients we worked with are all foreign nationals, some came undocumented, others came legally and bought visas themselves or were provided a visa through a fraudulent employment agency. Regardless they have different network of benefits in contrast to domestic victims of trafficking.

Ironically, during my previous internship, we had a guest speaker from the governor’s office come in and speak about human trafficking. At the time, I knew close to nothing about human trafficking. What I took away from the lecture was the fact that not much data is available to truly understand how human trafficking affects all of us.

Barriers of combating human trafficking

Lacking solid data makes it more difficult for law enforcement to identify or prevent trafficking from occurring.

According to Frank Laczko who is the head of the Research and Publications Division of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Geneva:

“There is still very limited information on the scale of trafficking, how it works, and the most effective means to halt it.”

One of the biggest knowledge gaps lies in the area of data collection.

“Despite the growing literature on trafficking, relatively few studies are based on extensive research, and information on the actual numbers of people trafficked remains very sketchy.”

Laczko also noted that many governments do not collect human trafficking data; or mix data with smuggling and other crimes making it difficult to distinguish from one another. Gaining international consensus of what trafficking means also has proven difficult, trafficking in one country can mean smuggling in another. Although many books and articles have been published on the subject, this clandestine act is difficult to detect, and almost impossible to predict. Fortunately, human trafficking has had a major response not just by governments, but non-profits, corporations, international organizations, and non-government organizations.

The world may be a dark place but there are people out there that want to help.  

Misinformation: Let’s look at the facts

Due to the nature of the IRC and their commitment to helping refugees around the world, misinformation campaigns can misconstrue what the IRC and similar organizations are about. Sadly, many fall under the notion or generalization that there may be terrorist entering the country.

This goes along the rhetoric we have heard especially during the 2016 elections and the decision of the Trump administration’s temporary ban on Muslims or “extreme vetting” and anti-immigration campaigns.

Sarah Lords, the internship coordinator at the IRC at the time who also interviewed me for my internship noted that before refugees arrive in the U.S., they must go through every intelligence agency at their respective refugee camp. The process for one refugee to arrive in the U.S. takes two to four years on average. Thus, it seems more likely that a person who wants to commit a terror act against our country would have to wait a really long time, subject themselves through rigorous intelligence agencies, just to arrive in the U.S. Sarah concluded that terrorist more than likely will rather come here legally through a visa simply because it is more expedient.

My Experience

My personal experiences interacting with refugees has been a positive one. Much of the staff at the IRC are refugees with many incredible stories. One man I met had been at a refugee camp for almost eight years before he arrived. Another older gentleman I met taught Arabic at a university level in Syria. He described the horrors, sadness, and hostile environment he endured and the difficulty of starting over here in the U.S. It was definitely a difficult conversation.

Sadly, the United States only receives a small fraction of the refugee population every year. In 2021, the number of refugees accepted will be 15,000. A decrease from 2020 which only allowed 18,000.

 According to the IRC:

“Less than 0.5% of refugees worldwide will be resettled to a third country, while millions of refugees will never be able to return to their countries of origin and languish in make-shift camps for decades.”

From my experience, it was more difficult to interact with a client who was involved in sex trafficking rather than labor trafficking. Usually, they tend to have more mental issues because of the severity of the offense compared to a labor case.

Sometimes, when victims interact with our staff, they may be timid, scared, or may display signs of PTSD.

It is up to us to make sure they become comfortable, and help them gain confidence in gaining practical skills to help them become independent in the long run.  

Many of our clients are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, who simply just want to be reunited with their families. I remember vividly working with two ladies who brought their families from the Philippines. They brought their families into the IRC so we could meet them. They waited years to be reunited with their loved ones and it was great to be able to witness families together and happy. We set goals for each family member and had them fulfill tasks, such as submitting a resume to us or keeping us updated with a social security application. Its great to see victims become empowered and motivated to get their lives back on track.

Human Trafficking: an NGO perspective


My time at the IRC was one of the greater learning experiences of my life. Yes, I have served in the “toughest” branch of the military; however everyday people fleeing war-torn areas like Syria breaks my heart every moment I think about it. Refugees are some of the toughest, bravest people I have met. Some have lost more than just their homes and material objects. It is incredible to see these people get back on their feet regardless of their circumstances.

Thankfully, there are governments and organizations like the IRC who take action and stand up to the current migrant crisis of our time and spreading information about human trafficking will help reduce this crime.

I hope this article has introduced you to the world of non-government organizations and their role helping people around the world. Human trafficking is a both a local and global issue that will take many different organizations both government and non-government to eliminate this problem. Till next time- Phan   

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