Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand,Vietnam





The UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (UNIAP) was established in June 2000 to facilitate a stronger and more coordinated response to human trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam).  At a regional level, UNIAP brings together six governments, thirteen UN agencies and eight international NGOs.  At a country level, the project includes an extensive network of government, local and international NGOs, UN organizations, donors and links to networks in southAsia and beyond. The UNIAP Regional Office is based in Bangkok.  It manages the country programs with guidance provided by an inter-governmental.  Project Steering Committee that meets annually. The UN Inter-Agency Working Group on Human Trafficking provides management oversight for UNIAP in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. 

Phase One of the Project was completed in May 2003 and Phase Two is scheduled to officially begin in November 2003.  The transition from Phase one to Phase two affords UNIAP the opportunity to focus more tightly its approach, building on the lessons learnt and activities initiated to date.  After successfully fulfilling its mandate of filling in gaps with regard to interventions on trafficking, UNIAP in the second phase is able to step back from line areas such as law enforcement and repatriation to concentrate on its co-ordination function.  Following the Project’s recent Mid-Term Evaluation, UNIAP has been able to articulate more clearly what this co-ordination role involves and how this is supported in a cohesive manner by its component programmes: Building the knowledge Base; Strategic Analysis and Priority Setting; Targeted Interventions and Catalytic Research and Advocacy.  Phase two will seek to enhance, expand and capitalize on the knowledge, networks and successful pilot activities developed in the first three years of the project.


 The Project aims to strengthen the regional response to human trafficking through improved knowledge, effective collaboration and better targeted action, with a view to reducing the harm and severity associated with human trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-region.

 UNIAP Phase Two

 Although many of the objectives and activities for phase Two are similar to or have evolved from phase one, UNIAP has modified the project approach and structure to better achieve the objectives.

 The four new Programme Areas for Phase Two are:

 Programme Area One: Building the Knowledge Base (To build the knowledge base on human trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-region)

 Programme Area Two: Strategic Analysis and Priority Setting (To identify, raise and support action on high priority issues related to human trafficking)

 Programme Area Three: Targeted Interventions and Catalytic Research (To support interventions that respond to gaps in the regional response to trafficking)

 Programme Area Four: Advocacy (To respond as the UN to concerns related to trafficking and to provide advocacy back-up to country offices, ministries and partners)


 The UN Inter-Agency Project aims to strengthen the regional response to human trafficking, through improved knowledge, effective collaboration and better targeted action, with a view to reducing the severity and harm associated with human trafficking in the greater Mekong Sub-region.

It was established in 2000 as an overarching mechanism to combat trafficking in women and children, while simultaneously implementing programmes in prevention, repatriation and rehabilitation, and law enforcement.  This broad mandate has enabled flexible, responsive and innovative action.


 The first phase of the project has been characterised by major advances in conceptual understanding of the issue . Through its wide networks, both within and outside the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS), UNIAP has consolidated lessons learnt from the nascent response to trafficking, as well as from the body of knowledge in other sectors.  As such, highly significant strides have been made in terms of conceptual clarity, demonstrated in papers to regional conferences, inter-agency working group meetings, newsletter articles and project design.  These include:

-  widespread and growing understanding of the ‘push-down, pop-up’ phenomenon, which often sees locally effective trafficking interventions merely succeed in moving the problem elsewhere.  Understanding of this phenomenon, is absolutely fundamental to the development of an effective anti-trafficking response, including combating of organised crime;

-  the root cause of trafficking is demonstrably not absolute poverty (which is held to be falling, while trafficking is held to be rising) and as such trafficking cannot be addressed primarily by poverty alleviation programmes, although these remain an important component of a holistic, multi-sectoral response;

 - trafficking cannot be addressed on the supply side alone. Income disparities in the GMS, both within and between countries, are so great that people will continue to move in search of better opportunities. Supply side efforts need to be complemented by increased efforts on the demand side;

 - law enforcement, within the Mekong Region, is a key aspect of reducing demand.  It must focus on impacting the economics of the trafficking businesses by targeting the brothel, factory and boat owners at the end of the trafficking chain, including through asset confiscation;

-  responsible migration management, including bringing immigration policies into line with labour market realities, is central to an enhanced response to trafficking.  For example, many people, particularly women, are highly vulnerable to traffickers because current policies do not allow them to cross borders legally to meet legitimate demand for labour; and

-  men are also trafficked.  Particularly nasty reports have been received about apparently systematic murders of trafficked men on fishing boats.  These will be investigated in phase two (initial plans were delayed as concerned parties view this research as potentially dangerous).

 In its second phase, UNIAP will increase its role in advocacy to ensure that these lessons learnt are reflected in the development of new programmes and policies. 

 Other high-impact outcomes of UNIAP in the first phase include:

-  establishment of the repatriation system between Thailand and Myanmar, in close collaboration with the respective Governments as well as IOM, Save the Children (UK), and World Vision International;

-  identification of the issue of citizenship for minority groups in northern Thailand as the single greatest factor in their vulnerability to trafficking.  After strong initial progress, attempts to assist these citizens to claim their citizenship entitlement have hit some bureaucratic roadblocks.  However, this issue is now in the international spotlight for the first time;

-  support for the region’s first ever prevention programme in a destination community. This project, run at minimal cost by Healthcare Centre for Children in Cambodia, has the potential to be adapted throughout the region;

initiation of a new project, TRACE, which will attempt to trace child trafficking episodes from the village to destination points, and potentially find some missing children. Originating from a meeting between UNIAP staff and a distressed father in a small village in Lao PDR, this Project has evolved to include a network of young researchers, conducting ‘non-rapid’ research through being based in selected villages over a period of time. Information collected by the researcher is being collated and analysed to provide a basis for the tracing activities;

pilot of a GIS-sentinel surveillance project with UNESCO.  This project, looking to track out-migration from selected villages over time, offers the most promising avenue to date for developing more accurate estimates of the extent of trafficking in the Mekong Region;

 - development of case management databases which will allow all information collected from trafficked victims to be collated and analysed with a view to use in prevention and enforcement activities;

establishment of a pilot interpretation and translation project for Burmese migrants in Thailand.  This project will better help migrants understand Thai laws and help trafficked victims access assistance.  It has also linked a previously voiceless community with the UN system.  Ma Suu’s story in the box above indicates the potential impact of this; and

provision of secretariat service for a regional inter-agency working group on human trafficking, which allows interested stakeholders to link with an expansive regional network and access the latest trafficking discourse.

 UNIAP aims to fill a catalytic role, supporting generally small-scale initiatives not being addressed by the other agencies.  Each initiative focuses on one or more of the following: bridging gaps; exploring new approaches; bringing in new actors; and building new linkages while strengthening existing ones, particularly across borders.  Such initiatives are then intended to be picked up by partner agencies.

 UNIAP also aims to play an enhanced role in advocacy in Phase Two, as there is an immense potential and a pressing need for an increased UN role in advocacy.  Examples of current issues which require advocacy are:

citizenship registration;

  • increased recognition of the rights of trafficking victims;
  • monitoring and follow-up of specific legal cases;
  • recognition of the relevance of responsible migration management to trafficking, nothing the discriminatory nature of some existing policy towards women;
  • recognition of trafficking of men in programming, including legislative development and review; and
  • working more closely with the media to encourage responsible, accurate and constructive reporting of trafficking-related stories.