Survivors of human trafficking face shocking “double trauma” on return to the Philippines, new research finds
Today a new report by King’s College London and a group of trafficking-survivor co-researchers found Filipina domestic workers were facing “double trauma”: first at the hands of traffickers, and later through neglect by support services on their return to the Philippines – at times with fatal consequences.
The collaborative project partnered King’s College London and the UK-based charity Voice of Domestic Workers and responds to sector-wide calls to put survivors in the driving seat of anti-trafficking research. Six survivors worked with a King’s College London academic to produce this report. They carried out 22 online interviews with domestic workers who had been trafficked to countries including the UK, Japan and Saudi Arabia, before returning to the Philippines.
The workers had already had food and healthcare denied them by overseas employers, effectively been imprisoned in the house they worked in, and some subjected to verbal, physical or sexual abuse.
However, on returning to the Philippines, the same workers faced neglect by the government, and were left in debt and struggling to afford healthcare and daily essentials. One of the interviewees died from illnesses caused by overwork and hunger, unable to afford hospital treatment in the Philippines.
As the British government ramps up draconian anti-immigration controls, this research shows that survivors from the Philippines are unsafe if sent back there. The UK should, as a matter of urgency, be offering a safe and legal place for survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking to rebuild their lives.
Return to the Philippines for one woman, Animor, proved fatal. She’d been trafficked and ‘sold’ to employers in Saudi Arabia, attacked by one employer with a knife, and was denied food and healthcare, with her weight dropping to that of an early teenage child (46 kg). On returning to the Philippines, she told co-researchers that she was ignored by support services as she didn’t have the paperwork to show she that she’d become ill while working abroad. “I begged them to give me the assistance to be able to have proper medication for my illness but they just ignored me. I haven’t tried again because I always fail, they just ignore me” (Animor). Too ill to find work, she was unable to afford hospital bills herself. Shortly after the interview, Animor died of her illness.
- On returning to the Philippines, over half the interviewees could not meet basic costs such as food, education and healthcare, and many were in debt.
“Sometimes I borrow food just to have a meal for a day” (Sabrina).
- 73% had not received any support from government or NGOs. Paying for travel to agency offices, or producing documents that had been confiscated by employers, were common barriers to accessing help. Some interviewees did not believe they were eligible as they didn’t recognise their abuse as trafficking.
“I would rather spend my money on our daily needs rather than using it just to inquire at their office” (Beth).
- 77% of interviewees said that they had plans to migrate again, despite knowing the risks of working abroad. Faced with the possibility of destitution in the Philippines, these interviewees (and others like them) are at high risk of being subject to more abuse at the hands of traffickers.
“I am also unsure of what could happen to me in the new place I’ll be working at. I don’t know if I will be able to return home alive” (Maribel).
- Systems like the UK’s National Referral Mechanism that prevent some trafficking survivors from working mean that survivors can return home in debt or with no savings, struggling to feed their families and get back on their feet after trauma.
Dr Ella Parry-Davies, King’s College London:
“Survivors of human trafficking face double trauma when governments fail to provide accessible and effective support. The lasting effects of trafficking stretch from mental and physical illness, to ruptured family networks and stigmatisation. On top of this, survivors are telling us they feel abandoned, or even retraumatised, by the organisations who are meant to help them rebuild their lives. It’s urgent that governments, including the UK, provide survivors with the legal status and support they need to recover safely and sustainably.”
Wendelyn Nova, survivor and co-researcher:
“When I interviewed Animor, I felt angry with the whole system – from governments, to traffickers, to employers – all are responsible. Animor sacrificed herself for a better future for her children. This world needs domestic workers, and Animor thought she would be supported in return for her hard work, but when she got sick she was ignored. Are more people going to have the same experience, or are we going to change the system?”
Report in full: https://rb.gy/p2k2o