Taking the Fight Against Human Trafficking Online in Uzbekistan

An estimated ten million migrants are on the move in Central Asia, to the thousands of construction sites in the Russian Federation, to the oilfields of Kazakhstan, or farther afield to Turkey and the Middle East.  

The vast majority are vulnerable to traffickers, who make huge profits buying and selling people in the construction, agriculture and entertainment industries.  

In Uzbekistan, where 600,000 new workers enter the labour force every year, a rapid trend towards online recruitment of aspirant migrants has been observed, a highly lucrative for traffickers, who can find easy pickings without ever doing face-to-face recruitment. 

“In the past, traffickers would physically travel here from Turkey, Russia and elsewhere,” said Sanjar Toshbaev, IOM’s country manager for Uzbekistan. “Now they can easily find and ensnare their victims online. We’ve noticed a sharp increase in this phenomenon of online trafficking in the past two years, and it’s high time that we fought back, also online.” 

This week, IOM brought together 20 organizations specialising in human trafficking, to plan incorporating online information campaigns into their anti-trafficking work.  

“No matter what we do, human traffickers are always one step ahead. They develop their business practices in response to all attempts to disrupt their highly lucrative business model,” noted Joe Lowry from IOM’s Vienna Regional Office, who led the training at the USAID-funded workshop near the Uzbek capital Tashkent.  

“If migrants are being exposed to traffickers online, we need to invest there. We need to bring our campaigns up to speed to warn people of the dangers of irregular migration and the job offers that seem too good to be true.” 

The two-day workshop focused on incorporating behavioural change components into online campaigns, looking closely at how safe migration messages could be spread through social media campaigns. The participants were also given refresher courses on how to write for social and traditional media, and on how to produce better audio-visual material. 

“Knowledge is key when it comes to a successful migration experience,” said 52-year-old Ravshan, who left Tashkent to work as a factory engineer in Moscow for several years.  

“Corruption is pervasive, and you have to pay off the authorities at every turn. Even the more experienced migrants take a fee from new ones, helping them to register, get papers, find their way through the system. The more people know before they migrate, the better.”