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As the Scourge of Human Trafficking Intensifies, AirAsia Trains its Cabin Crew to Spot Traffickers and Their Victims

As the Scourge of Human Trafficking Intensifies, AirAsia Trains its Cabin Crew to Spot Traffickers and Their Victims

As the Scourge of Human Trafficking Intensifies, AirAsia Trains its Cabin Crew to Spot Traffickers and Their Victims

The worldwide business of human trafficking is a crime that many people will never see or even be aware of.  But make no mistake, the illegal trade of humans – often involving modern day slavery is an ever growing problem that affects nearly every country in the world.

Once upon a time, human trafficking was unseen and kept deep underground.  Nowadays, however, large networks of criminal gangs are using busy air corridors on normal passenger planes to move their illicit cargo around the world.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), roughly 46 million people worldwide are living in slavery.  The rewards for this terrible crime can be huge for the criminals – estimated at around $150 billion USD.

Now, AirAsia – the biggest airline in the region – is embarking on a huge training programme for thousands of its cabin crew and front line staff to spot the criminals and their victims.  It’s part of a major global push to try and turn the tide on human trafficking.

The UNODC has been working to wipe out human trafficking since the late 1990’s.  It claims that many victims are used for prostitution, sexual exploitation, forced labour and slavery.  In some cases, UNODC claims that criminals use their victims for organ removal to be used in transplant surgery.

Vulnerable victims are either coerced or deceived into the hands of their keepers.  Others are abducted or their family’s threatened.

“We like to be able to have our staff know what to do if somebody comes up to them and says ‘I need help’,” commented Yap Mun Ching, who works for AirAsia’s charity, the AirAsia Foundation.  She continued: “Sometimes (the victims) don’t know they have been trafficked. They realize it only when they are on their way and they want to be able to get help. Most of the time they don’t know who to turn to.”

According to Reuters, the airline will train between 5,000 and 10,000 frontline staff – they’ll learn what to look out for and importantly, what to do if they have any suspicions.  The training will be delivered by Airline Ambassadors International – a U.S.-based organisation that specialises in training airline staff about human trafficking.

AirAsia is a Malaysian low-cost carrier which was founded by colourful entrepreneur Tan Sri Tony Fernandes in 2001.  The airline has grown into the largest airline in Asia, serving 74 destinations across 120 routes.  With a number of subsidiary companies, the airline has large bases in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Jakarta and Manila – all are said to be hotspots for human trafficking.

In February, the scrouge of human trafficking caught the attention of U.S. media when Alaska Airlines flight attendant Sheila Frederick spotted a victim onboard her flight from Seattle to San Francisco.  Sheila left a note for the victim in the aircraft toilet who was then able to respond by writing “I need help.”  The aircraft was met by law enforcement on arrival and the suspect arrested.

Sheila told 10news: “Something in the back of my mind said something was not right. He was well-dressed. That’s what got me because I thought why is he well-dressed and she is looking all dishevelled and out of sorts?”

Meanwhile, earlier this month, more than 100 people were arrested across Europe in a huge law enforcement bust at Heathrow Airport in London.  Authorities allege the gang smuggled over 200 Iranian migrants into the UK every year for 10 years.  The pan-European police agency, Europol, claimed each migrant was charged £22,000 for the journey into Europe.

At a summit in June, UNODC called for a worldwide training campaign for flight crews to help fight human trafficking.  In the U.S. over 70,000 flight attendants have received training since 2003.

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