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329 human trafficking victims to Japan supported back home over 14 years: UN group

A member of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Manila is seen carrying out a monitoring interview with a victim of human trafficking who has returned home in this photo provided by IOM Tokyo.

TOKYO -- The number of people designated as trafficked to Japan who have been supported in returning to their home countries reached 329 over a 14-year period up to June 2019, according to figures compiled by victim support group U.N.'s International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Its Japan branch, IOM Tokyo, emphasized the necessity for continued support, "The victims are just the tip of the iceberg. Worldwide the number of people being moved, and human trafficking victims, is going up. The increase in foreign workers means it is likely Japan will not be exempt from this trend."

Human trafficking is a crime in which people are moved or kept in a location by means including violence and intimidation. Victims are often forced into labor or prostitution.

Among those repatriated with support from the IOM between April 2005 and June 2019, Filipinos make up the largest nationality with 149 people. Eighty-eight Thai nationals have been returned home, with Indonesians the third largest group at 61 people. Many were sexually exploited, with some cases of labor exploitation, too. Women make up a vast proportion of the numbers, with the average age of victims in the mid-20s.

For many of the Filipinos affected, issues reported included people coerced into marriage with Japanese nationals to obtain a spouse visa enabling them to stay in the country, and being forced into long hours of unpaid labor.

The Japanese government set up the Action Plan of Measures to Combat Trafficking in Persons in 2004. The IOM received funding from the government to start supporting victims to return in 2005 to their home countries and receive societal rehabilitation. In 2019 the organization received some $130,000 (14 million yen) from Japan.

Once someone is identified as a victim of human trafficking by the authorities, they are met directly at a shelter, such as a women's consultation center, by an IOM representative to confirm they wish to return to their home country. In accordance with the relevant authorities, reunions with family, meetings with counsellors, receiving education and other measures to rehabilitate the victim in society can be arranged by the IOM even after they have returned home.

IOM Tokyo's program manager Noriko Kiyotani, who is in charge of victim support, said about their work, "We're increasing the number of people receiving help from us to reintegrate into society. I want to continue to provide support in the long term."

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), between 2012 and 2014, 63,251 people were confirmed to be victims of human trafficking across 106 countries and territories. They added that their reported numbers showed an upward trend.

In 2017, the IOM supported over 8,700 people internationally, but about 80% of those cases were of people forced into labor. From the period between 2000 and 2017, the number of migrants has increased by about 50%, from some 173 million people to about 258 million.

(Japanese original by Hiroaki Wada, Integrated Digital News Center)

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