Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) founder and President Bridget Lew Tan was mentioned in a speech by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the release of the 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP).
In her speech, Clinton said:
Our TIP – our TIP heroes today show us that individual action can lead to some astounding results. For example, in Singapore, Bridget Lew Tan has dedicated her life to protecting migrant workers. And Singapore, albeit a small country, has more than 800,000 immigrants. And she has been volunteering with a local archdiocese. And while there, she met 30 Bangladeshi men assembled behind a coffee shop in the middle of the night, and she helped to set up shelters – one for men and one for women – to provide refuge to migrant workers who had been abused.
Lew founded HOME in 2005. Since then, HOME has provided direct assistance to more than 50,000 migrants and victims of human trafficking and forced labour. HOME has also been granted Institute of Public Character (IPC) status. In 2010, HOME was awarded the Asia Public Service Award 2010 by the Asia 21 Society. The award included US$10,000 prize money from Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Lew was also nominated for honorable mention in the fourth annual Readers Digest Asian of the Year award for 2010. In an interview with the magazine, Lew explained why she took up the migrant workers’ cause.
“In Singapore the group of people that are discriminated and marginalised, more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse than other groups are migrant workers, who are unskilled and semi-skilled,” she said.
HOME has been actively campaigning for Singapore to sign the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, which has been signed or ratified by nearly 150 parties. In June 14th this year, the government announced that it is ‘working towards’ signing the UN treaty.
Singapore’s position earlier was that a foreigner who entered the country willingly to work illegally – as a sex worker, for example – was a party to ‘human smuggling’, and therefore an immigration offender. But with the signing of the treaty, such foreigners could be treated as victims and allowed to remain in shelters here while their cases are investigated.
The move is also seen as a partly a result of the United States State Department, downgrading Singapore to a watchlist of countries which it said did not fully comply with minimum international standards to eliminate trafficking in its Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report last June.