London calling: Facebook and banks enlisted in drive to stop slavery

From construction sites and car washes to brothels, hundreds of suspected slavery victims hailing from Eastern Europe were referred to the government for processing and support last year. (File/AFP)
Updated 03 December 2018
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London calling: Facebook and banks enlisted in drive to stop slavery

  • Britain is home to about 136,000 slaves, according to the Global Slavery Index
  • From construction sites and car washes to brothels, hundreds of suspected slavery victims hailing from Eastern Europe were referred to the government for processing and support last year

LONDON: From social media posts to educate immigrants threatened by modern slavery to teaching bank staff to recognize the warning signs, a drive to combat sex trafficking and forced labor among Romanian and Polish communities in London launched on Monday.
Bankers, police and campaigners have teamed up on a campaign to reach out to vulnerable people in Croydon, south London, and give advice regarding their rights, where to seek support and how to act if faced with sexual abuse or labor exploitation.
Organizers of the project — the first of its kind in London after similar initiatives elsewhere in Britain — say it aims to make people living in trafficking hotspots more wary of a crime that is evolving and growing nationwide, according to officials.
“We are trying to highlight people’s rights and direct them to local services by targeting them through social media,” said Neil Giles, a director at anti-slavery group Stop the Traffik.
“The more people we reach, the more our advice will be shared in Britain and back home (Romania and Poland) ... and the faster we can accelerate change in fighting modern-day slavery.”
Britain is home to about 136,000 slaves, according to the Global Slavery Index, and the government said in July it would review its landmark anti-slavery law amid fears it is failing to keep up with growing trends such as the use of child drug mules.
From construction sites and car washes to brothels, hundreds of suspected slavery victims hailing from Eastern Europe were referred to the government for processing and support last year.
The Croydon campaign is using targeted adverts on Facebook to share information about slavery in Romanian and Polish, and Giles said the tactic had hugely boosted awareness and discussions — both online and offline — in previous projects.
Facebook did not respond to requests for comment but said last month at a Stop the Traffik event that the social media giant was always looking to combat trafficking, and geotargeted adverts were valuable to engage with vulnerable communities.
“But social media on the whole is lagging behind and playing catch up ... criminals get the hang of technology way quicker than the good guys,” Giles told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The project is also being backed by Barclays Bank which said it has trained its staff on how to spot the signs of slavery, identify traffickers and victims, and report their suspicions.
The modern-day slave trade affects an estimated 40 million people worldwide and reaps some $150 billion each year in illegal profits for traffickers, the United Nations says.
“This is an important issue for us ... we know that those who are forcing people into modern slavery use bank accounts to launder the proceeds of crime or facilitate it,” said Paul Horlick, the director of Barclays’ financial intelligence unit.


South Sudan vaccinates health teams in Ebola epidemic

Updated 10 December 2018
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South Sudan vaccinates health teams in Ebola epidemic

  • The ministry of health’s vaccination campaign, with cooperation from the WHO, will target health care and frontline workers in the high-risk states of Juba, Yei, Yambio and Nimule

NAIROBI: South Sudan will vaccinate key health workers against Ebola close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, which faces a new epidemic, the World Health Organization said Monday.
The ministry of health’s vaccination campaign, with cooperation from the WHO, will target health care and frontline workers in the high-risk states of Juba, Yei, Yambio and Nimule, the UN agency said in a statement.
South Sudan is one of several countries bordering the vast DRC, where the new outbreak of the highly contagious viral disease had since August claimed 271 lives by December 6, according to Congolese Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga.
A total of 2,160 doses of the experimental vaccine rVSV-ZEBOV have been allocated to South Sudan for a program starting on December 19. This trial vaccine is not yet licensed but is considered safe and provided “under the compassionate-use guidelines in response to the ongoing Ebola outbreak in DRC,” the WHO said.
Like neighboring Uganda, where similar measures have been taken for health personnel, South Sudan has declared a state of alert because of the risk that Ebola may be carried into its territory. At present, no cases have been reported, according the WHO.
The experimental vaccine first went on trial during the terrible epidemic of Ebola that ravaged parts of West Africa between the end of 2013 and 2016, at a cost of more than 11,300 lives. The disease spreads through contact with bodily fluids from other people or infected animals.
The vaccine was created by Canadian public health specialists at the National Microbiology Laboratory and is considered highly effective by the WHO, but it works only against the Ebola virus-Zaire strain, confirmed in the outbreak in the DRC.
South Sudan has been torn by civil war for five years in a conflict that has left nearly 400,000 dead. More than four million people — about a third of the population — have fled.
The main belligerents signed a peace accord in September, but the work of humanitarian organizations remains complicated and dangerous.
Participants in the vaccination program have been trained on rVSV-ZEBOV and undertaken a simulation exercise. Meanwhile, the Ebola preparedness contingency plan covers measures ranging from screening travelers, community engagement and provision for safe and dignified funerals, the WHO said.