Human Rights Team Leaves for Asia on Mission To Protect Tsunami’s Youngest Survivors
January 18, 2005
Following reports that children orphaned by the tsunami in South and East Asia may have been kidnapped by human traffickers or lured into the commercial pedophile industry, a six-man “Human Rights Relief Team” left Los Angeles today on a fact-finding and humanitarian visit to the disaster area.
The team is being sent by the Los Angeles-based International Foundation for Human Rights and Tolerance, a nonprofit tax-exempt organization that promotes the values of human rights and tolerance articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Church of Scientology International is also providing support to the project, which arrives in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Thursday to begin work.
It is estimated that of the more than 150,000 who died in the tsunami, more than one third were children. Thousands of orphaned children are among the traumatized, many from seaside fishing villages, where the wave killed not only their parents but members of their extended families. Human rights organizations have expressed concern that newly orphaned children looking for adult protection may be unable to distinguish between genuine help and the outstretched hand of a trafficker.
The U.S. State Department has expressed concern that traffickers will seek to exploit the plight of the children in the coming months. According to John Miller, Director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, “trafficking is likely to take place not in the week following the tsunami, or two weeks, but over the next several months, as children and families realize their vulnerability and start weighing phony opportunities for education and jobs.”
“We want to be able to provide hands-on assistance to reunite parents with children where possible, as well as make recommendations based on first-hand observation that other humanitarian agencies can then act upon,” said the spokesperson for the team, Susan Carmel.
Carmel pointed out that of the countries worst hit by the tsunami, the governments of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand and India were listed in the State Department’s 2004 report as failing to meeting the minimum standards necessary to combat trafficking.
The team will work with local and international human rights and child welfare groups to examine the scene on the ground and to distribute information alerting both parents and young people of how to recognize a potential trafficking or kidnapping situation.
Team members will also coordinate their efforts with the hundreds of Volunteer Ministers from the Church of Scientology who have been in the area since the disaster occurred, providing whatever help is needed including counseling to the traumatized and practical help to enable people to rebuild their lives.