US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Washington is concerned about ‘risks of human trafficking’ that displaced Ukrainians face [File: Bonnie Cash/Pool via Reuters]
State Department cites Russia amongst worst offenders in human trafficking, criticises China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The United States has hit out against Russia and China, accusing the two countries of enabling human trafficking in a US Department of State annual report on the subject.
The 634-page document, released on Tuesday, covers policies on human trafficking around the world, including in the United States. Both Russia and China are mentioned throughout the report as two of the worst offenders.
Russia is listed as one of 11 countries with a “‘policy or pattern’ of human trafficking, trafficking in government-funded programs, forced labor in government-affiliated medical services or other sectors, sexual slavery in government camps, or the employment or recruitment of child soldiers”.
Other countries on the list include Afghanistan, Myanmar (Burma), Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Russia, South Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan and Yemen.
Russia had appeared on the same list in last year’s report. But this year, there was an added emphasis on the invasion of Ukraine on making Ukrainians vulnerable to human trafficking.
“Russia’s senseless continued invasion of Ukraine and its devastating attacks across that country have inflicted unfathomable pain and suffering and forced millions of Ukrainian citizens and others to flee seeking safety,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in the preface of the report.
“We are deeply concerned about the risks of human trafficking faced by individuals internally displaced by the war, as well as those fleeing Ukraine, an estimated 90 percent of whom are women and children. The food insecurity and other broader effects of Russia’s war exacerbate trafficking risks around the globe.”
The document also names Kateryna Cherepakha, the head of La Strada Ukraine, an NGO established in 1997 that set up a hotline to assist victims, as one of six “heroes” combatting trafficking.
“Since the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine, the telephone and online hotline has seen a manifold increase in calls for assistance,” Tuesday’s report reads. “It has remained open under her leadership and as a result, thousands of Ukrainians have been able to access crucial information, advice, and assistance to keep themselves safe from trafficking and exploitation.”
The Russian embassy in Washington did not immediately return Al Jazeera’s request for comment
Another country that features frequently in the report is China. The annual document accuses Beijing of “government policy or pattern of widespread forced labor, including through the continued mass arbitrary detention of Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, and members of other Turkic and/or Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang”.
Washington has accused Beijing of carrying out a “genocide” in Xinjiang, a charge that China has vehemently rejected.
“PRC [People’s Republic of China] and host country nationals employed in some BRI construction projects, mining operations, and factories in African, European, Middle Eastern, Asian, Pacific, Latin American, and Caribbean countries experience deceptive recruitment into debt bondage, arbitrary wage garnishing or withholding, contract irregularities, confiscation of travel and identity documentation, forced overtime, and resignation penalties,” the report said.
Workers also faced “intimidation and threats, physical violence, denial of access to urgent medical care, poor working and living conditions, restricted freedom of movement and communication, and retaliation for reported abuses”, it added.
A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington rejected the report as a US attempt to “make unwarranted accusations against other countries”.
“The Chinese government has achieved universally recognized progress in combating human trafficking while the US has a notorious record on this issue,” Liu Pengyu told Al Jazeera in an email.
“If the US wants to call out countries that engage in human trafficking, it should firstly point fingers at itself,” he added.