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Dozens of IJM Clients Safe in Nepal; Staff Warn of Increased Trafficking Risks Following Earthquake

After the catastrophic earthquake that has so far claimed thousands of lives struck Nepal on Saturday, April 25, IJM’s team in Kolkata started trying to make contact with 34 women.

Two of these women were IJM social workers already in Nepal visiting a shelter for trafficking survivors, and the other 32 were young women who had been rescued from Indian brothels and were now living back home in Nepal.

IJM activated an emergency evacuation plan to ensure the IJM social workers were able to return to Kolkata safely, and all of the girls and staff at our partner aftercare home are safe. While there is no damage to the home, the residents are sleeping outside for fear of aftershocks.

Catastrophic disasters like this one only increase the risk of trafficking for poor families and girls. According to a 2012 report from the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, 'some people exploit the chaotic environment that follows a natural disaster to engage in criminal activities, such as selling children for the purpose of illegal adoption, forced labour or sexual exploitation.'

'Many people are now homeless, and girls will be lured to leave, believing Nepal is now prone to disaster,' explains one IJM social worker, Moumita Khati. 'Disasters tend to make people more vulnerable to trafficking.'

The trade between Nepal and India

As many as 7,000 women and girls are trafficked from Nepal to India every year, and around 200,000 are now working in Indian brothels, according to UNICEF. The United Nations estimates that Nepal is one of Asia’s poorest nations, with unemployment over 40% and per capita GDP of just £650.

Most of the Nepalese girls rescued in IJM-assisted operations have come from a few vulnerable communities, located about a two-day walk from the capital of Kathmandu. IJM social worker Khati explains that this area is very poor, and the girls have grown up eating only raw vegetables. Animals are reared to be sold for their products, as they cannot afford to eat the meat.

Helping resettle girls trafficked across borders

When trafficking victims have been taken across international borders, going home can be a very long journey after the rescue operation.

IJM works with several aftercare homes in Nepal, and IJM social workers help accompany girls and settle them into the shelters when they are able to go home. Khati describes one of these shelters where many of our clients live as 'a beautiful home with A-plus facilities. It’s very homey and family-based, where the girls are mentored to be leaders.' Khati said she was able to get in touch via Facebook with the director of this aftercare home and confirm that all of the staff and girls were safe in the days after the earthquake.

Seeking safety in the aftermath of the earthquake

Two IJM social workers had been in Nepal the week before the earthquake. They were visiting this same home to follow up with a few young women who had been rescued in IJM-assisted operations and repatriated about a year ago.

When the earthquake hit, they were staying with different family members and preparing to board a plane that day to return to Kolkata. That flight never left.

IJM staff based in India and Washington, D.C. worked through the weekend to develop an evacuation plan to help them return home, while Khati and others back in Kolkata started trying to contact the rest of the clients who in Nepal.

IJM’s Vice President of Operations for South Asia, Saju Mathew, noted that while we are grateful no IJM staff or clients were harmed, there are huge needs in Nepal. 'The earthquake and aftershocks have been devastating. We must continue to pray for the people of Nepal as they are suffering greatly. We commend the relief efforts and local organizations that are responding immediately.'

'The road to recovery will be very long, and we encourage local officials in Nepal and the bordering nation of India to protect the scores of children and young women who are particularly vulnerable to violence like trafficking and sexual exploitation,' Saju added.

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