Human Trafficking and the Refugee Crisis

Modern day conflicts are penetrating communities across the globe, leaving 65.6 million people forcibly displaced. As of June 2017, 22.5 million people have become refugees, seeking a new country to call home, an estimated 1,883 people lost their lives while searching for it, 70% of whom died while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. There is no doubt the global refugee crisis is real and heart wrenching, and that people are going to great measures to ensure the survival of themselves and their families. However there are secondary issues that are often overlooked when it comes to the migration crisis. Seemingly invisible, the freedom of many are falling through the cracks of society.

In a world of isolation; economic, social and political insecurity; and persecution, refugees often have little choice than to take risks. With weakened economies and legal systems, more and more people are subjected to extreme vulnerability, making them easier to be exploited or abused. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) found that of the thousands of people fleeing from Nigeria alone, 80% were being sold, smuggled or forced in servitude. With growing xenophobia, the disparity between those who are in need of resettlement and those who actually get it is widening, leaving more opportunity for traffickers to prey.

Displaced persons can fall to the grasps of traffickers at all stages of their journey.

For those who choose to flee their home countries, they enter a world of smuggling networks and criminal gangs, where they may be forced to pay a sum in order to make it to the next stage of their trek. According to a 2015 Interpol report, the price for safe passage into Europe is anywhere from $3,400 to $6,800, a price that may increase at the mere whim of a smuggler, leading many into sex servitude and violence in order to repay this debt. Others still may fall victim to becoming a ‘commodity’ that can be sold on the market. Othman Belbeisi, head of the IOM’s mission in Libya said that migrants crossing through Libya are being sold from $200 to $500.

For the lucky ones who make it to their destination, the majority of which today is in Europe, it does not necessarily mean their vulnerability ends. In overcrowded camps with limited resources, competition is high, leaving many women with little choice other than prostitution. Many may take on this work voluntarily out of sheer necessity, but others may be unaware of the real circumstances of coercion until it is too late. Another growing concern is that that many criminal gangs are taking advantage of the

most vulnerable of refugees – unaccompanied children. Europol estimates that over 10,000 unaccompanied minors have gone missing since arriving in Europe. Some may have fled to other families, but there is a strong fear that many have fallen to exploitation or abuse, a situation that is only growing worse with the exacerbating migration crisis.

Yes, human trafficking is illegal. So why don’t victims report themselves, especially those who may have made it to a country that is deemed safer or more stable? Given the size of the global refugee crisis and the means by which refugees choose to flee and enter countries, it is near impossible for them to report their trafficking victim status out of fear of identifying themselves as an ‘illegal’. This is an issue bigger than perpetrator and victim and illuminate issues in policy and priority. It is an issue of impunity, whereby systems and governments are in danger of becoming enablers.

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