COLOMBIA NEWS – (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When Colombian Jhon Freddy got a job in Argentina as a manager with a multinational company earning us$7,000 a month, he thought it was a dream come true.
But his dream soon turned into a nightmare. After applying for the job online, Freddy, a computer engineer, was flown to Buenos Aires where he was exploited by a trafficking ring, Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper reported.
For more than a year, Freddy was forced to work 16-hour days with no pay, picking grapes, looking after animals and doing menial chores on a vineyard near the Argentinian capital. He was also forbidden from contacting his family, the report said.
Freddy, who was rescued by the Argentinian authorities last year, is one of a growing number of Colombians trapped in slavery in countries across Latin America, most notably Argentina, Ecuador and Paraguay, El Tiempo said.
Like Freddy, many of them are exploited after applying for ficticious jobs advertised online by bogus companies, it added.
In 2008, Colombia’s interior ministry assisted eight victims of slavery. Last year that figure rose to 24. The number of Colombians trafficked for slave labour outside of the country has now overtaken the number of people trafficked for sexual exploitation, the newspaper said.
So far this year, Colombia’s interior ministry has dealt with 26 cases of forced labour, 11 cases of forced prostitution and three cases of forced marriage.
Experts say these cases of forced labour are likely to be the tip of the iceberg as fear of reprisal and low prosecution rates in Colombia prevent victims reporting trafficking crimes to the authorities.
There have also been cases of Colombian men forced to work making furniture and baskets in Argentina, according to the 2014 U.S. State Department’s trafficking in persons report.
Since the Colombian government set up a free telephone hotline on human trafficking in 2011, 34,503 people have called to report trafficking crimes and kidnapping.
Until recently, Latin America was known as a region from which people were trafficked, but more people are being trafficked through countries in Latin America and it’s a region where trafficking victims are increasingly ending up, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) says.
Labour trafficking is not only a rising trend in Colombia but across the world, the IOM says. Since 2010, labour trafficking has overtaken sexual exploitation as the main type of trafficking in cases assisted by the IOM, according to a 2012 report by the agency.
Prosecutions for human trafficking remain low worldwide, in a global industry the United Nations estimates is worth $32 billion a year and ranks as the third largest source of income for organized crime after drugs and arms trafficking.