Human trafficking in crisis situations

During the 29th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Caritas Internationalis and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) hosted an event entitled “Trafficking in Persons in Crisis and Post-Crisis Settings”.

Trafficking is a worldwide problem and continues to be an issue for developed countries as well as undeveloped countries. But this event was organised at a vital time since recent studies have demonstrated that human trafficking in conflict and post conflict situations continues to be a growing problem.

Human trafficking occurs in conflict situations since these situations weaken the government, increase poverty, and leave the vulnerable to fend for themselves. Reports presented at the event by both Caritas Internationalis and IOM aimed to answer the overarching question posed by one of the panellists, Genevieve Colas, “How can we better reach the victims of trafficking in the time of conflict?”

A Caritas report studied the situation of human trafficking in Albania, Armenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Kosovo, France, Lebanon, Turkey and Ukraine. The findings showed that emergency aid programmes during the conflict and reconstruction phases are focused on meeting immediate needs such as food, clean water, medical care and shelter. However, too little is being done to address the exploitation of children, women, and other minority groups.

This failure leaves such vulnerable people without much hope for change. For example, 15 years after the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo, lack of protection for vulnerable groups has degenerated into crime and human trafficking. In another example given, many young women and girls are being married off by their parents in hope of a better future but, tragically, they later find themselves raped and abused.

The IOM said that many people displaced because of crisis situations later find themselves led to vulnerable situations. They frequently are taken advantage of, including men being bribed to become fighters during conflict, women and girls being forced to offer “sexual favours”, economic exploitation, or being forced into child marriages.

IOM experts said, “crisis situations can exacerbate existing vulnerabilities to and manifestations of trafficking in persons,” and that “trafficking should be seen as directly related to crises situations and not just a side effect.”

The urgent need for prevention and advocacy was emphasised. Both Caritas and IOM urged nations to “treat this response as a life saving protection activity.” This type of activity needs to be fully developed and integrated before, during, and after the crisis. Other suggestions for effective action included the training of police forces, working with young people to prevent forced marriages, economic programs, and teacher training to safeguard the most vulnerable from trafficking.

The panellists for this event included Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Trafficking; Geneviève Colas, Secours Catholique – Caritas France; Olivier Peroux, an Independent Expert; Laurence Hart, Sarah Craggs and Agnes Tillinac from IOM; Mons Hector and Fabio Henao of Caritas Colombia; Fady Moussa of Caritas Lebanon; and Martina Liebsch of Caritas Internationalis.