Navigating the legal system is often a complicated and lengthy process for victims, or survivors, of human trafficking. It is common in Kurdistan for them to face criminal charges instead of being recognized as survivors, leading to further exploitation or abuse. SEED Foundation’s legal services play a critical role in supporting survivors of trafficking to access justice.
Dora*, a foreign worker from Central Asia, had experienced multiple forms of labor exploitation by her employer, including working long hours and overtime without pay as a worker in a salon. Dora and her employer got into a physical altercation with her employer, and Dora was kicked out to the street in the middle of the night without any money, her passport, or residency card. The employer further exploited Dora’s vulnerable position as a foreigner and filed two lawsuits accusing Dora of physical assault and owing her $3,700 for the money spent trying to obtain Dora’s residency card. Facing criminal charges, Dora reached out to SEED Foundation for support in late December 2019.
SEED provided legal representation for Dora who was released on bail and referred to SEED’s STEPS Center, a shelter for survivors of trafficking, for comprehensive support. However, while out on bail, the prosecutor opened another case against Dora for being in Kurdistan without legal residency, adding a large penalty that would need to be paid before she could return home.
From the onset, SEED’s service delivery team ensured that Dora had access to needed services, including mental health and psychosocial support, as well as medical care and basic needs; however, legal assistance was essential to resolving her situation. It was a complex case, and SEED’s lawyer worked closely with Dora to develop a legal strategy , using a survivor-centered approach.
Advocating for Dora’s rights as a foreign worker, SEED filed a case against the employer for not issuing Dora a residency card as required by law. At the same time, the lawyer actively followed up on Dora’s court cases and the relevant police stations to ensure all necessary procedures were followed. For victims of trafficking, preparing witness statements and testifying in court can be a traumatic process, SEED’s lawyer recognized this and helped Dora prepare for what to expect while at court.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading into Kurdistan in March 2020, Dora’s legal cases were put on hold due to restrictions, and when her legal cases resumed in late 2020, the judge ordered Dora’s arrest and imprisonment after staying almost a year at the shelter. It was distressing for Dora, but with support from SEED’s lawyer and SEED advocacating to Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) officials, she was released on bail after two weeks.
SEED’s lawyer diligently negotiated with Dora’s employer to have the charges dropped. SEED paid Dora’s penalty fees for not having a residency card, which absolved financial responsibilities from the employer and further encouraged the employer to drop her case against Dora. Finally, SEED’s lawyer and Dora, were successful in having all of the charges dropped against her and they were officially closed. SEED’s lawyer finalized Dora’s exit stamp, allowing her to legally leave Kurdistan, and prepared the documents required by her home country for her safe repatriation.
After 12 months of being supported by SEED, on her last day at the STEPS Center, Dora’s face was beaming; she could not contain her excitement to return home and see her family again. “Thank you,” Dora wrote to SEED. “How can I repay all your work? I can just make dua (prayer)… Just pray.”
*Names and minor details have been changed for confidentiality reasons