Boarding a low-cost carrier for a visa run, I spotted them in the three seats in the middle
block. It was clear that it was their first time on a plane and they were scared. They didn’t
speak to anyone nor did they eat the bread roll with the banana-chocolate filling or drink
the 3-in-1 coffee the cabin crew distributed. They could not be a day older than sixteenyears-
old but how could I know.
I tried to start a conversation with the girl who was seated on the other side of the aisle but
there was no indication that she heard me. Even when I stood up to take a book from the
overhead stowage above her, she didn’t as much as twitch. Sadly, I lost sight of them
during the disembarkment process.
As luck would have it, they were three persons ahead of me in the immigration line. This
time the brand new carry on suitcases, brand new passports and a man in his mid-forties,
dressed in a white office shirt, creased from sitting on the plane, and black trousers was
with them. Not a word was spoken but I did see him hand them their passports and help
them fill out the immigration cards. It was important to take in every detail. Watching the
immigration inspectorate in front I knew that I would soon witness the moment when one
of the super-sharp officials would approach them.
The inspector asked the man whether he knew the girls and he indicated his answer with
his head. The inspector held out her hand to take the new visas and after looking at the
back pages and the first few pages, asked them to follow her. While the man stayed in line
to pass through immigration, the girls were taken into a room and I never saw them again.
Very nonchalantly the man was cleared and entered the country. I was deeply concerned.
That very same evening, we took an impromptu right-turn into a side alley. There we saw a
tiny girl who disappeared into the dark the moment she saw us heading her way. It was
clear that she was very new. We stroll past, as if we didn’t see her, and sent the rest of the
team ahead. Two of us waited further on and she reappeared just as suddenly as she
disappeared moments before. As fearful as a young dear staring at what is threatening it,
she stared at us; completely frozen.
We reiterated that she has nothing to fear from us. While maximising the three minutes we
had with her, we asked where her friends were. “I don’t have any friends here. I’m alone,”
she said. Handing her a bangle, she asked if we’ll be back to meet her friends and have
some bangles for them too. She explained that her friends were on the last ferry arriving.
We promised to be back and passed the information on to the law enforcement agency we
work with because they are the authority and are mandated to protect people and borders.
The moral of the story is that an integrated approach is the most effective way to respond
to human trafficking. While government departments and law enforcement are the
authorities responsible for the protection of people and borders, enforcing the law and
investigating crime, these entities, airports and airlines are rarely aware of the expertise
available to them from the anti-trafficking movement.
With government and decision-maker buy-in, we can do so much more to bridge the gaps.
While working in isolation is overwhelming, collaboration closes the cracks through which
the trafficked ones are lost into an unseen, illicit trade, that keeps them hidden in plain
Contact us to learn how to spot the signs and learn how you too can be a beacon of hope
for the voiceless.