Short course, long-term solutions: A Diplomat’s Journey to Help Human Trafficking survivors


Short course, long-term solutions: A Diplomat’s Journey to Help Human Trafficking survivors


Australia Awards Short Course Alumna Vida Soraya Verzosa of the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs applies an innovative GEDSI approach to consular work. 


In June 2021, the Philippine Embassy shelter in Syria was empty for the first time in a long time. Through the fantastic efforts of their staff, a group of Filipino survivors of human trafficking from Syria arrived back in the Philippines. These repatriates, primarily women, suffered from poor working conditions and abuse by their employers. 


Behind the successful repatriation is an innovative approach to reducing survivor vulnerability developed by Filipino diplomat Vida Soraya Verzosa. This new approach was inspired by the Australia Awards Short Course on Gender, Equality, Disability and Social Inclusion (GEDSI) Mainstreaming that she attended in June 2020. 


Delivered online by the University of Queensland, the short course was designed to help participants incorporate gender, equality, disability and social inclusion in their respective agencies’ policies, actions and operations. 

An integral element of the course is developing a re-entry action plan or REAP, which allows participants to apply what they learned in their workplaces immediately.


Vida’s REAP included legal training for Department of Foreign Affairs, Philippines (DFA) personnel who conduct the initial interaction with vulnerable individuals and victims to better equip them in handling the legal aspects of cases. This included a needs assessment data-gathering workshop to provide the personnel with how to understand the victims’ needs better and develop customised approaches to care, particularly for vulnerable individuals and families. 


While implementing her REAP, Vida took over as Chargé d’Affaires at the Philippine Embassy in Syria, where she continued to act as Head of Post. 


“It is almost serendipitous for me to suddenly be assigned to Syria and have the opportunity to apply what I learned in the Australia Awards course in a manner that significantly impacted the lives of Filipinas trafficked in Syria,” said Vida.



Facilitating effective access to justice


Vida was motivated to improve access to justice by Filipinos victimised by human trafficking, particularly the most vulnerable. According to Vida, not all DFA overseas posts have legal officers or retained legal counsel who can readily assist. She saw the need to increase the capacity of DFA personnel assigned to handle case referrals. 


 “DFA personnel at our overseas posts are the first line of defence, the first with face-to-face interactions with these women and other socially excluded persons, and the first to initiate the process of evidence-gathering and case build-up for onward processing to law enforcement and justice agencies.”


Vida also produced a handbook entitled The Syria Model: Legal Handbook on Assistance to Nationals Cases, distributed to DFA offices and posts needing legal empowerment resources. 


“By providing them the legal empowerment tools to assist women migrant workers, including persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, and other socially excluded people, more people can be saved, and the DFA’s capacity to make an impact will exponentially grow,” said Vida.


Due to the success of Vida’s initiative, she was invited to share the positive outcomes of her short course with the Philippine Senate, where she received a commendation for her approach dubbed “The Syria Model” – because it was an innovation in the way the Philippine Embassy handled trafficking in person cases in Syria.  


The innovation has led to the filing of in-person trafficking cases and subsequent prosecution of traffickers under Philippine law.


“This was not just another online training or capacity-building workshop. The Australia Awards short course produced tangible results for the beneficiaries who were given access to justice and legal empowerment opportunities in Syria and the Philippines,” said Vida. 


Quality education amidst the pandemic


Vida fondly shared that distance learning worked for her and her classmates from across the Philippine government. “We felt it was a safe space to practice critical thinking and receive insights from our group facilitator. I enjoyed the balance of academic rigour and the laid-back approach to the Zoom discussions. This is part of the uniqueness of Australian education. 


She shared that getting quality education during the pandemic is a feat worth celebrating. “Completing the course at a time when there was a global pandemic felt like a major accomplishment because those were extraordinary times to be studying.”


The Australia Awards short courses are tailored to address the specialised training needs of Philippine government agencies aligned with their priorities.


The online nature of the short course meant that Filipino diplomats posted across the globe could participate and earn an Australian education.


“My Australian education ultimately helped me accomplish major organisational outcomes. The entire experience added value to my life and the lives of all those we serve during our work as diplomats,” said Vida.