Global Policy Forum

Turkmenistan: International

Integrated Regional Information Networks
April 23, 2004

A two-day conference on the protection of rights of women and children kicked off on Friday in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, organised by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Ministry of Justice of Turkmenistan.

"This conference represents a continuation of our cooperation with the Ministry of Justice of Turkmenistan that we started in October last year. We signed the memorandum of understanding to assist the legal information centre within the ministry and also to assist with specific issues of mutual interest," Zoran Milovic, head of IOM's mission in Ashgabat, told IRIN on Friday.

According to the IOM, the event is being held as a follow-up to previous activities organised by the UN's migration agency and Ministry of Justice earlier in 2003 within the framework of IOM's counter-trafficking project funded by INL (US State Department Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs).

"We are especially interested in raising the issues related to irregular migration, labour migration and trafficking in human beings at the legislative and policy level. We've been discussing these issues with the government and we consider this as part of the awareness raising [efforts]," Milovic said.

The aim of the conference is to conduct a forum to share international experience, exchange best practices and elaborate recommendations for future initiatives to improve protection of women and children's rights both at international and national levels, and in particular to prevent and combat human trafficking, IOM said in a statement on Thursday.

"We also agreed that it is very important to raise the wider issue of protection of women and children because the issues that affect the position of women and children at the national level directly affect their potential willingness to consider moving across the border either as regular labour migrants, irregular ones or to fall for offer by organised crime and to become trafficked persons," Milovic explained.

Although the extent of the problem of human trafficking in Turkmenistan is not very high compared to some other Central Asian or former Soviet republics, the fast pace of economic development and the difference in the economic situation between Turkmenistan and some other countries could change this, he said.

"With a recent announcement of more flexible exit procedures there will more and more possibilities for Turkmen citizens to travel abroad," Milovic said. In January this year, Ashgabat abolished exit visas imposed in March 2003 on its citizens wishing to travel abroad.

"I know of cases of young Turkmen people, especially young Turkmen women being offered jobs in other countries, training and so on," he maintained, noting, however, that many if not the most of such offers would prove legitimate and honest offers.

Meanwhile, a former gender activist told IRIN earlier about a case in which a young girl was trafficked from Ashgabat to the commercial capital of Turkey, Istanbul, and was forced to operate as a sex worker. "Luckily she had her passport and managed to escape from her traffickers," the activist said, adding that there was a number of reported cases in which some people were offering young girls jobs abroad, reportedly promising that they would work as waitresses or nannies for good pay.

Representatives of neighbouring countries and some of the countries in the region that do have migration movements with Turkmenistan and Central Asia, like Pakistan, India, China, Afghanistan, Turkey, Russia and United Arab Emirates and some international organisations are taking part in the event, hosting some 250 participants.

Milovic added that representatives of these countries and some Western embassies in the country would emphasise the interest of their governments in the issue and the interest to hold a series of follow-up activities either by providing their expertise or experience. "It is very important for every government to learn how other governments deal with certain issues," the IOM official stressed.

With the assistance of the international community, Turkmenistan could start tackling those problems, like trafficking, before they grow problematic, he said, adding: "But in order to avoid problems in the future we have to work today."

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