From October 27 to 31, 2020, Eurasia Foundation hosted the third annual Regional Forum to Combat Trafficking in Persons in Central Asia. This yearly forum provides a critical platform for stakeholders to review and strengthen collaborative efforts to counter trafficking in persons across the region.

Taking place digitally for the first time, the five-day online event united civil society organizations (CSOs), government officials, legal experts, and media representatives from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Russia. The forum also included representatives from the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP) and Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, and Winrock International.

Urgency has always marked the fight against trafficking in persons; however, the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic have magnified the need for all stakeholders to collaborate. Instability and lack of access to critical services caused by the pandemic mean that the number of people vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers is rapidly growing, in Central Asia and beyond.

“Trafficking in persons is already so often invisible, and the pandemic has driven this crime further underground,” says Mekhribon Abdullaeva, Civic Engagement and Governance Program Manager at Eurasia Foundation. “Now more than ever, a coordinated regional response is critical to effectively dismantle cross-border networks, prosecute traffickers, and identify and protect trafficking victims. Eurasia Foundation is proud to lead this effort.”

This year’s forum also placed special emphasis on improving the quality of transnational investigations and prosecution of traffickers, and on establishing robust legal collaborations among lawyers throughout the region.

Representatives from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan and the Prosecutor General’s Office of Kazakhstan joined thirty lawyers from both countries. Together, they analyzed case studies and developed a robust series of recommendations to enhance collaboration among regional partners. Priorities include strengthening coordination with law enforcement agencies; building awareness of trafficking cases in the media; analyzing anti-trafficking legislation; and involving mental health professionals in all investigation and reintegration processes. Three working groups will continue discussions surrounding these recommendations in the coming months.