A city rich in diversity and complexity, Istanbul is a hub for human mobility. Migrants come from all over the world fleeing conflict, seeking safety or searching for stability. With the complex nature of migration journeys, individuals often find themselves at risk of exploitation and trafficking, highlighting the necessity for stronger measures to identify and protect those at risk of such abuses. Against this backdrop came the Initiative to Strengthen the Identification Process of Victims of Human Trafficking in Istanbul.

Acknowledging the need to bolster the capacities of frontline responders, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) partnered with the Presidency of Migration Management (PMM) to empower officials tasked with day-to-day interactions with migrants, equipping them with the skills to detect and respond to signs of exploitation. At the core of the initiative are targeted training sessions designed to enhance the skills of İstanbul Provincial Directorate of Migration Management (PDMM) officials.

Across three workshops held in December 2023, more than 70 representatives from the PDMM’s Units of Temporary Protection and Residence put their learning hats on – scrutinizing different types of exploitation with the aim of better recognizing them in their work. From refining interview techniques and effective communication to implementing Turkish legislation on the identification and protection of victims of trafficking in human beings, training participants deepened their understanding of their pivotal role in safeguarding vulnerable individuals. The impact of these sessions extended beyond the training room. Over a four-month period, monitoring activities demonstrated that the number of victim referrals from PDMM officials increased by 47 per cent and 93 per cent of participants deemed the training sessions effective.

"Through this initiative, we wanted to support the counter trafficking system in Istanbul towards being even more caring towards its residents who are victims of one of the most terrible crimes, human trafficking. The results achieved show us the value of this initiative, and the commitment of the city and of the counter-trafficking community to take action,” remarked Maria Chiara Tognetti, IOM Türkiye Senior Protection Coordinator.

The initiative also looked at protecting trafficking survivors identified by state officials, so that identification efforts could be integrated by concrete actions to help survivors regain their freedom. Twenty men, women, boys and girls received specialized assistance to recover from the traumatic experience of violence and exploitation.

Deniz* is one of many who received assistance. At the age of 12, she was exposed to forced marriage by her family and was further forced to beg and engage in illegal activities for nearly two decades. After being identified as a victim of trafficking by the responsible authorities in Türkiye, she was assisted in obtaining an identity card, a three-month residence permit, and recognition as a victim of human trafficking – culminating in an International Protection application ID.

“I found a friend in Ankara and became housemates with them. Then, I received a Conditional Refugee ID. I received huge support, from getting my ID card to paying my rent and buying a bed. Now I work as a cleaner in a bakery, and I have enrolled in a Turkish language course,” she said.

Initiatives such as these are essential to the resilience of Istanbul, as it continues to develop into an important hub for global migration. The commitment to combat trafficking represents the city's pursuit to uphold the rights and dignity of all residents. Through persistent learning and collaboration, we pave the way for a future in which the richness and vibrancy of urban life provide no sanctuary for exploitation.

“I can say this to women who have gone through something similar: violence only goes so far. Even if you can tolerate violence, disrespect cannot be tolerated. Think about yourselves. Live for yourselves. Do not lose your self-respect. Go out and build your own lives,” added Deniz.

The Initiative to Strengthen Identification Process of Victims of Trafficking in Persons in Istanbul was made possible with the financial support of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

*Name changed to protect identity.