‘New Approaches Required to Prevent Trafficking Among Conflict-Induced Migrants’ 

Human Wrongs Watch

Governments need to adopt new approaches to human trafficking in light of conflict-induced migration increasing around the world and putting many more people at risk of such trafficking, according to an independent United Nations human rights expert.


Young girls attending a school at the Shagarab Refugee camp in eastern Sudan where thousands of asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants are at risk of being trafficked every year. Photo: UNHCR

“Trafficking in people in conflict situations is not a mere possibility but something that happens on a regular basis,” the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, on 31 October told the General Assembly during the presentation of her latest report.*

“This means anti-trafficking measures must be integrated into all humanitarian action and all policies regarding people fleeing conflict,” she added.

The General Assembly’s Third Committee, which deals with items relating to a range of social, humanitarian affairs and human rights issues that affect people all over the world, is currently in the midst of hearing from more than 50 special rapporteurs, independent experts, and chairs of working groups as mandated by the UN Human Rights Council.

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

According to a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Giammarinaro’s report corroborates the link between conflict and trafficking highlighted in a recent survey by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which found that more than 70 per cent of migrants who reached Europe via North Africa had become victims of human trafficking, organ trafficking or other forms of exploitation.

“Conflicts always create a favourable situation for human traffickers,” Giammarinaro said. “As institutions break down, the protection normally offered by families and communities is destroyed. Organized criminal groups can operate with impunity, and people are impoverished or displaced.

UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

“Traffickers target vulnerable people and offer them an opportunity to leave the country,” she continued. “However, this places people at high risk of sexual or labour exploitation, as they are compelled to repay the traffickers in order to continue their journeys.”

The Special Rapporteur reminded that traffickers target those who are most vulnerable, offering them opportunities to leave a particular country. The result, she said, is that it “places people at high risk of sexual or labour exploitation, as they are compelled to repay the traffickers in order to continue their journeys.”

Children especially are at risk of trafficking and exploitation, regardless of whether they travel alone or with their families.

The independent expert pointed to data from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) which found that some 300,000 children were involved in more than 30 armed conflicts worldwide. Boys are more likely to be recruited as combatants, while girls are abducted, raped, and forced into sexual slavery.

“Children working in the informal economy become the only source of income and often end up in heavy exploitation,” Giammarinaro said. “Children travelling alone, hoping to reunite the whole family in a safe country, are exposed to a range of exploitation to reach their destination.”

During the presentation, she emphasized a declaration made at a recent summit in New York on migrants and refugees, which calls for the establishment of safe and legal channels of migration as the primary tool to prevent trafficking and exploitation. State policies, she reminded, can sometimes exacerbate the vulnerability of those fleeing conflict.

Ms. Giammarinaro recommended that those countries who are grappling with an influx of migrants should work with non-governmental organizations and international organizations to ensure interviews that identify those at risk are done safely and in a friendly environment to provide specific solutions to meet peoples’ respective needs.

The independent expert urged UN Member States to make special efforts to ensure that children are never detained.

“The best interests of the child must be the primary concern,” she underscored. “As a consequence, the detention of children must be banned at all times, as it is never in the best interests of the child.” (*Source: UN).

‘Treaties against Human Trafficking Key to Fighting Scourge, Supporting Victims’

With current armed conflicts and humanitarian crises driving massive population movements – and not just in Europe, though the continent has been heavily challenged – an upcoming UN report will confirm the troubling fact that human trafficking generally follows the overall migratory flows, a senior UN anti-crime official on 29 September said, urging States to back the Trafficking in Persons Protocol and other international tools to address the evolving and complex situation.**

At the Bandeu checkpoint in Nepal, inspectors and a police constable approach a bus to look for potential victims of child trafficking onboard. Photo: OCHA/Tilak Pokharel.

John Brandolino, Director of the Division for Treaty Affairs at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), spotlighted the importance of international treaties and agreements in tackling human trafficking in his address to a Headquarters event co-hosted with the European Union (EU) following up last week’s first-ever UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants.

“The forthcoming biennial 2016 UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, which will be released in November, confirms that human trafficking flows generally follow the overall migratory flows, he said, adding that the majority of trafficking victims detected globally by Member States (around 60 per cent) are foreigners in the country of detection, most of them migrants.

Likewise, information collected for the Global Report has shown an increasing detection of victims from conflict-affected countries such as Syria, Iraq and Somalia in countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The continuing vulnerability of women and children as victims of trafficking in persons will also be revealed in the Global Report, comprising 79 per cent of the total victims detected. The EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator’s Progress Report from June of this year came to the same conclusion, highlighting the particular vulnerability of migrant children, he added.

Further, EU data confirms that child trafficking is exacerbated by the ongoing migration crisis, during which the number of children arriving in the EU has risen exponentially. A significant amount of these children are travelling unaccompanied, making them preferred targets for traffickers.

With these challenges in mind, Brandolino said that for him, two core messages stand out in the Summit’s outcome, the New York Declaration: first, a desire to protect and save lives in peril, born from a profound solidarity for the millions of persons around the world who are forced to flee their homes; and second, moving beyond moral compassion, to a call for action. In the Declaration, States reiterate in the strongest language their commitment to fight human trafficking and migrant smuggling.

He went on to reconfirm the centrality of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, known as the TIP Protocol, saying:

“This treaty provides us with the first and only internationally agreed upon definition for trafficking in persons, and steers our common efforts with a clear framework for action – a framework which UNODC has been successfully delivering upon for the last 15 years, often with the generous support of partners like the EU and the United States.”

The New York Declaration actually reaffirms the importance of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and the two Protocols – the Trafficking in Persons Protocol and the Smuggling of Migrants Protocol.

Specifically the TIP is one of the most successful treaties in modern international law, enjoying one of the speediest ratification trajectories ever, and soon approaching universality, he said, noting that as of today, there are 170 ratifications, or nearly 90 per cent of all Member States, including most recently, the Republic of Korea, Singapore and the Maldives.

Brandolino noted that UNODC is also facilitating direct support to victims of trafficking in persons through the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, and that around 2,000 victims a year are being provided critical assistance, such as safe shelter, legal support and advice on victims’ rights, appropriate treatment for physical and mental abuse, vocational training, establishing small businesses, schooling for children, and basic health services, among others.

“The Trust Fund has so far allocated nearly $3 million and stands ready to continue this work should more donations be made,” he added.

Wrapping up his presentation, he said “commitment yields results,” and “the Trafficking in Persons Protocol is the cornerstone of our response and should continue to be so. More than 15 years on, this hard-won instrument appeals to nearly all States while containing progressive, forward-looking provisions which promote the protection of victims. (**Source: UN).

2016 Human Wrongs Watch

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