People blurred in background with hands on the right draped in a rosary (© L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo/AP)
Pope Francis, left, meets with victims of human trafficking in Rome in 2016. (© L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo/AP)

Yosief Abrham Mehari was working in 2011 as a doctor in Khartoum, the capital and largest city of Sudan, when he realized the victims of trafficking he saw needed more than the medical care he could give. “So I shared with other relatives and friends and said, ‘What can I do?’” he said.

Headshot of Dr. Yosief Abrham Mehari (State Dept.)
Dr. Yosief Abrham Mehari (State Dept.)

Mehari worked with two friends and started a safe house in Khartoum that today houses 65 women and children. There the trafficking victims receive medical and psychological care as well as legal support and job training.

Dr. Mehari is among 10 people whom the State Department honored June 28 in Washington for their commitment to combating human trafficking in their countries and around the world.

“Most of them have no family or no address for them,” said Mehari of the hundreds of people he has helped over the last seven years. He also coordinates with Sudanese authorities and service providers to see that victims receive proper care and to attempt to hold traffickers accountable.

The number of victims of human trafficking remains in the tens of millions, according to the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report, released by the State Department June 28. The annual report assesses trafficking in 187 countries, including the United States, to assist governments in identifying threats so law enforcement agencies around the world can respond effectively.

Two people presenting a framed document to a woman in a headscarf (© Yuri Gripas/Reuters)
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump present an award to Maizidah Salas, an activist for former trafficking victims in Indonesia. (© Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

“Human trafficking is a global problem, but it’s a local one too,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a ceremony releasing the report and honoring the 10 heroes. “Human trafficking can be found in a favorite restaurant, hotel downtown, a farm or a neighbor’s home.”

Woman walking on city sidewalk (© Andrew Medichini/AP Images)
Blessing Okoedion (© Andrew Medichini/AP Images)

Blessing Okoedion is another hero the State Department recognized this year. She was five years out of university in Nigeria when she was deceived into believing a job in her field awaited her abroad. Instead she was forced into prostitution on the streets of Italy.

“Disappointed and tired of such a miserable life living on the streets,” she told End Slavery, an initiative of the Vatican to combat human trafficking, “I took courage and one day I went to a police station asking for help to return to my country.” The police took her to a shelter run by Catholic nuns.

Since that time, Okoedion has worked to end human trafficking both in Italy and in her native Nigeria. She has partnered with Catholic organizations to help educate communities on how to recognize trafficking and young women on how to avoid it.

“People young and old have an equal part to play in ending modern slavery,” she said, “so that every human being can enjoy the gift of freedom and dignity.”

Meet the other heroes whom the State Department honors.