Friday, February 22, 2008

Corrupt Immigration Officials Facilitate Trafficking at Airports

From Xpress:

To help curb human trafficking, a visiting senior Philippine official wants Manila to implement stiff regulations that prohibit airport personnel from escorting departing passengers.

Surveillance cameras need to be installed in major international airports in the Philippines to monitor and catch erring immigration and airport personnel, said Dante Ang, chairman of Philippine Presidential Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force.

He said these are part of sweeping changes that his team has proposed following a dialogue in the UAE with Filipino workers that included about about 40 women who claimed they were forced into prostitution by syndicates between 2006 and 2007.

Ang said his team appreciated the cooperation of the UAE authorities and noted the work of Dubai Police in pursuing human trafficking crimes.

Airport ushers, also called “escorts”, are men or women employed by various government agencies at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila.

They guide passengers through the maze of exit procedures, but they have been targeted by migrant workers groups and politicians for their alleged abuse of duty, including extortion.

Ushers are blamed for squirreling away undocumented overseas workers all the way to the aircraft knowing they don’t have pertinent papers and may end up at the mercy of abusive employers or handlers abroad.

The team’s recommendations will be submitted to Philippine President Gloria Arroyo.

“We recommend the termination of the so-called ‘escort services’, other than for the diplomatic passport holders,” Ang said.

Another solution, he said, is to randomise the queue, and retrofitting all immigration counters with cameras.

“This may not totally eliminate, but it can minimise the problem,” said Ang.

Visit visas have allegedly been used to lure Filipino women who end up being forced into prostitution.

In 2006, 30 Filipinas sought protection from the Philippines Consulate in Dubai against pimps who they claimed forced them into prostitution and 10 more came forward last year. The age of the 40 alleged victims were between 16 and 24.

The official said some of the victims go through Singapore, Hong Kong or Malaysia, before they arrive in Dubai. Filipinos do not require visas to travel to other countries in South East Asia.

“We’ve learnt that in several cases, the syndicate uses a ribbon marker for pre-selected Filipina human trafficking victims so they slip through the airport without any questions being asked.

“The Mama Sangs [handlers] deal with a few bad eggs at immigration. That’s what the victims are saying. Apparently, these syndicates have people both inside and outside the airports,” Ang said.

An official from the Philippine consulate told XPRESS on condition of anonymity they had gathered statements from several victims last year that bribe money changed hands at immigration counters before the girls ended up in the UAE.

“The bad guys [there] never go to jail because the evidence is weak, and testimonial evidence against them have no value, especially when complainants are overseas. They are just reassigned to other posts and recycled.”

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