No-frills airline gets ‘luxurious’ on global social issue

AIRASIA Foundation fully supports spreading awareness and promoting education on human trafficking, doing so by way of leveraging on its extensive network of over 120 destinations. For now, it is the only airline known, as the World’s Leading Low-Cost Airline, to lead the fight against human trafficking in Asia.

FIGHTING A GLOBAL CAUSE

The foundation recently invited non-profit organisation Airline Ambassadors International (AAI) representatives to share their knowledge and expertise with its AirAsia Allstar “family”. Employees were taught to recognise signs of human trafficking, considering the airline industry, where often human trafficking syndicates “market and transport” their victims. Areas discussed included how to spot a victim from check-in to take-off, as well as steps to take when confronted with a “situation”.

The insightful talk was part of the airline’s one-day roadshow programme and presented at four of AirAsia’s main hubs in Manila, Philippines; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Bangkok, Thailand. The local proceeding was held at the airline’s headquarters – RedQ.

AirAsia Berhad CEO Aireen Omar stressed on the importance of the programme. She said: “As we grow bigger and bigger, and as we increase our connectivity in the region, it has become our responsibility to play a role in combating this horrendous crime ... and we must do this together.”

CALL TO TAKE ACTION

AAI founder and president Nancy Rivard engaged with the crowd of over 100 people. She shared about the history of the organisation where airline personnel were encouraged to use their “privileges” to help children needing transport to receive medical care. She also told of members hand delivering monthly aid, amounting to over US$60million, delivered to over 60 countries. It was during one of their missions to Cambodia in 2009 that Rivard discovered the dark reality of human trafficking.

“On our very next humanitarian mission the following month, we went to the Dominican Republic. We talked about the issue of human trafficking. There were 12 of us on the trip and amazingly, our team correctly identified trafficking on four different airlines. Our first tip led to the bust of a pornography ring in Boston, saving 86 children,” Rivard informed.

AAI human trafficking awareness trainer and speaker Donna Lynne Hubbard, who is a survivor herself, was trafficked for over seven years, before she turned herself in to authorities to protect herself and her children. She shared gripping accounts with the crowd. “I had to go to prison to get free. I don’t want that for any other victims out there, which is why I stand before you today and I tell my story over and over again.”

“They (the human traffickers) exploit people who make bad decisions. They put us in vulnerable positions and that allows them to trick the victims. I want you to understand it can happen to anyone, but you can do something about it,” she said.

AWARENESS AND EDUCATION

AAI regional director of Los Angeles Andrea Hobart, who also spoke on the subject, urged everyone to take a stand and join the fight against it. “All of us, even if you’re in a role that’s not necessarily at the airport, we all have eyes and ears and we need everybody to see so that we can stop people from moving through the cracks, from slipping out of reach,” she said.

Andrea highlighted some of the “red flags” to look out for – common victim indicators – in spotting a victim of human trafficking. These included:

▶ Have few or none of the usual personal items when checking in or boarding a flight;

▶ Less well dressed than companion(s), or clothing that does not fit route of travel;

▶ Anxious around uniformed security;

▶ Unsure of destination or who will be meeting them;

▶ Scripted or inconsistent stories;

▶ Wounds or bruises; No eye contact;

▶ Seems disoriented;

▶ May appear to be drugged;

▶ Appears malnourished and/or eats as if ravenously hungry; and

▶ Barcode tattoo or branding with a man’s name or “Daddy”.

She also shared pointers typifying a trafficker, which included:

▶ Answering questions for the victim;

▶ Observes victim persistently;

▶ Gives evasive answers;

▶ May not know child’s name or personal information; and

▶ Poses as a relative.

Hobart also pinpointed the fact that a trafficker could be anybody, young, old, male, as well as female. She advised one to not act immediately or suspiciously when coming across a possible victim or trafficker. “Don’t try to draw attention in a negative way, but feel out the signs a little bit, dig a little bit,” she advised.

“You do not want to confront what you think is a trafficking situation. Do not display any alarm. You don’t want to rescue, because that’s for the law enforcement personnel who are trained in that area.”

ACTION PROGRAMME TO ROLL OUT SOON

Before the event concluded, Rivard shared that this was the first airline she has come across, to openly embrace the vision of combating human trafficking.“Many are too worried about vigilante flight attendants getting them into a lawsuit or making an accusation that may not be correct.”

AirAsia Foundation executive director Yap Mun Ching hinted that the airline had big plans in its stand against human trafficking.

“We want tomake sure that at least everybody in AirAsia knows that this is our fight, and thenwe’ll take it public,” she explained.

Apparently, there is a huge programme all planned out. “It will cover training our staff, public awareness campaigns and will also involve partnerships with other entities. This is something important to us, more so since we are an Asean airline. Hence, this is not just a Malaysian initiative. Any activity we are going to take up, is going to be Asean-wide,” shared Yap.

Keep your ears and eyes peeled and join the foundation in its fight against human trafficking on top of updates and information on its website and social media platforms.

DID YOU KNOW?

Human trafficking is a global problem. It affects lives and robs victims of their dignity. Victims include women, men and children, forcing captives into exploitative situations. Most known forms of human trafficking is intended towards sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude, childbeggingand removal/sale of organs.