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Nina Balabayeva, Director of Public Fund “Center for Social-Psychological Rehabilitation and Adaptation Rodnik
July 30, 2021

Colorful logo reads 30 years together with stylized Kazakh and USA shaking hands

A woman poses at her office desk

Nina Balabayeva, Director of Public Fund “Center for Social-Psychological Rehabilitation and Adaptation “Rodnik”
Program: IVLP 2004 “Cooperation of Governmental and Non-Governmental Sectors in Combating TIP”
Program: IVLP 2015: “Combating Trafficking-in-Persons”   

You have participated in several exchange programs. How did these exchange programs affect your professional activity? (You can highlight each program, as you attended different years: in 2004 (IVLP: Cooperation of Governmental and Non-Governmental Sectors in Combating TIP) , then 2015 (Combating Trafficking in Persons), and also received an award in 2020 and became one of the 10 heroes around the world in combating trafficking in persons.   

I had the good fortune to visit the United States twice under the “International Visitors” program. These were unforgettable trips full of meetings and cultural events.  And although the topic is the same-getting acquainted with the experience of combating trafficking in persons, the interaction of state organizations and NGOs are different feelings.

In 2004 it was a complete immersion in the topic, because “Rodnik” took only the first steps in the field of combating trafficking in persons, only in January 2004 we became partners of the International Organization for Migration. Absolutely everything was interesting – how they help the victims, how interaction is built, how the victims find organizations that protect and rehabilitate them…

In 2015, I was already an expert in the field of combating trafficking in persons and had more issues related to Legislation, law enforcement practice, standards of service provision.

For the first time, our group, who were three directors of non-governmental organizations of Kazakhstan, visited the cities of Washington, New York, Seattle, St. Louis, and Miami.

In 2015, two NGO directors, a representative of the Ministry of Labor and Employment of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Commission on Human Rights under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan visited Washington, New York, Albuquerque, Reno, and Miami.

Here is such a diverse geography.

And the program… There are three or four meetings every day. These are both state bodies and non-governmental organizations. The program is thought out to the smallest detail, excellent logistics, not a single minute was lost during the working visit. Everything is aimed at the result – getting experience in combating trafficking in persons.

How do you apply / have applied the acquired knowledge in Kazakhstan? If you have a project, can you share positive statistics? (Can you tell us about our joint projects with the US Embassy, the Department for Combating International Crime and Law Enforcement?) 

Any working trip is the introduction of some technologies and practices. Thus, in March 2006, the first specialized shelter in Kazakhstan was opened by our organization to provide assistance to victims of human trafficking, and we used techniques in working with victims that I saw in Miami shelters, including working with underage victims of sexual exploitation. It was the first time I heard about border protection, privacy and anonymity policies, and then I was struck by the presence of video surveillance cameras to reduce the risks of intrusion on the territory of shelters.

We had meetings with representatives of the law enforcement system, social protection, and everyone talked about a victim-centered approach to helping victims, about a referral system, about T type visa, etc.

A group of people outside the office of the special agent in charge, Miami, Florida, DHS

All these observations and the information received helped to organize the activities of the shelter, information campaigns with great results.

Our organization has been providing direct assistance since 2005 to the present, we have provided assistance to 586 victims, these are citizens of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, China, the Philippines and other countries.

I am very proud that thanks to my work trips to the USA, Serbia, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Moldova, I have constantly improved my level of expertise. I participated in the working group on the development of Standards for providing assistance to victims of human trafficking.

A group of people pose in front of flags

Since 2008, I have been invited by the Department for Combating International Crime and Law Enforcement of the US Embassy as an expert trainer for conducting classes at the Academy of Law Enforcement Agencies under the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan in Karaganda, the Institute of Justice under the Supreme Court of the Republic of Kazakhstan, at the Academy of Law Enforcement Agencies under the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Republic of Kazakhstan. It is MY job to conduct classes using the experience of the United States and other countries, in an interactive mode, using practical tasks.

What success stories in working in cooperation with the US Embassy on combating trafficking in persons could you share?

In 2020 I was awarded as the TIP REPORT HERO by the US State Department. This is an international recognition.

A woman poses in front of award certificates she's earned

The premises of the Shelter, which worked for 13 years, were transferred by the International Organization for Migration within the framework of the USAID project, now the office of “Rodnik” is here, which ensures the stability of the organization in the implementation of project activities (note: we have trained Arman APK organization in the methods of accompanying victims of human trafficking and handed them the baton of conducting the activities of the shelter, and “Rodnik” continues to provide assistance to foreign citizens who are not yet a target group within the “Standard for providing special social services to the victims of trafficking).

In August 2021, we will launch a one-year project supported by the US Embassy Small Grants Program an Information marathon “Together Against Trafficking in Human Beings: AlmatyTarazAktau”. I am sure it will be a very interesting and productive project.

What surprised you the most during the exchange program? Can you tell us how something has changed in the USA in the 11 years between the programs (2004 vs 2015) in which you participated?

Surprised? Perhaps, the fact that the participants of all the meetings were waiting for us, were prepared for the meetings, and already knew something about Kazakhstan. It was a pleasure.

That there are states in the United States where prostitution is legalized. Although legalization does not remove trafficking in persons from the agenda.

A group of people pose in an office with flags and a map in the background

That the police officers we met do not have stereotypes about the victims of trafficking in persons, and they are focused on solving crimes and punishing criminals.

That a lot of non-governmental organizations that are engaged in combating trafficking in persons are funded from various sources: Ministries, city halls, and private business.

That ordinary people look at us, the people who help victims of trafficking every day, as COSMONAUTS, i.e. HEROES.

What has changed? There are more non-governmental organizations that counteract trafficking in persons and provide assistance.

What unusual things did you learn from colleagues in the United States who worked in the same field with you? 

We learned from colleagues from Polaris that they have a multi-channel hotline; operators consult in different languages, including Russian, around the clock (in 2004).

That people who are being helped are also leaving shelters.

Volunteerism is very developed in the United States and ordinary people actively participate in the organization of information campaigns, actions, provide assistance in the shelters.

A group of people unpacking boxes of donated items

Business companies that are engaged in charity work for NGOs have preferential taxation.

What conclusions did you make for yourself after each exchange trip? 

There should be a separate law on combating trafficking in persons. There should be no discrimination in receiving services in shelters by foreign citizens. The interaction of all structures is a mechanism for reducing the risks of trafficking in persons in Kazakhstan.

How has the pandemic affected your activities in the fight against trafficking in persons? Has the pandemic affected the increase in cases of illegal and forced labor of vulnerable groups of the population, as well as migrant workers?

When the quarantine was announced, it was probably an unfamiliar situation for everyone. How to behave, how to work, how to help the victims?

Only for two months, the employees of Rodnik were in the remote work mode. And then they continued to provide assistance to the victims.

In 2020, we provided assistance to 35 victims of trafficking

In 2021 – 40 victims of trafficking

Information about the victims comes from our NGO partners, as well as from diplomatic missions located in Almaty. There are cases of self-referral.

All 75 victims of trafficking returned safely to their homeland.

More than 1,000 migrants, including children who were restricted in movement and lost their jobs, received humanitarian assistance in the form of food packages, hygiene and protective equipment.

How do you assess the bilateral cooperation between the United States and Kazakhstan in the field of combating trafficking in persons and providing assistance to victims of human trafficking? 

I rate with a plus sign. This is the support of projects of Kazakhstani NGOs aimed at countering human trafficking by the US Embassy. And the fact that Kazakhstan is again in Group 2 in 2021 after the recommendations of the Report on Combating Trafficking in Persons -2020. A lot has been done during 2021: shelters have switched to three-year funding, a Social Code is being developed, there is a hope that foreigners will become recipients of services in shelters for victims of trafficking in persons. The practice of social orders for NGOs to inform citizens is being resumed in the regions. The activities of regional interdepartmental commissions on combating trafficking in persons have been intensified.

Which of the last joint events would you note?

I remember the first national simulation exercise on the topic “Combating trafficking in persons on migration routes,” which was held in Karaganda in 2019. This is the first such exercise in the post-Soviet territory. I was in the Directorate of the exercise and witnessed the interaction of all structures. This is a complete immersion of the participants of the exercise in the process of identification, investigation, and assistance.

In 2020, there are 9 training seminars for representatives of law enforcement agencies (criminal and migration police), prosecutors, judges, labor inspectors, which were held online, as a result of which recommendations were developed to improve the situation in the field of combating trafficking in persons in Kazakhstan. I took part as a speaker.

All state structures were involved in the preparation and conduct of these events: the Supreme Court of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Population of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

These events were held with the support of the US Embassy in Kazakhstan.


*This content is made possible by the support of the U.S. Mission to Kazakhstan. The content does not promote a personal business and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Mission or the U.S. Government.