How can immigration lead to trafficking in women

Migration and human trafficking: inextricably linked

by Madina Jarbussynowa

In a world that is globalizing so rapidly, action against human trafficking can only hope to be successful if we understand the connections between human trafficking, mixed migratory flows and the constantly changing international political and social context. In view of the unprecedented population movements caused by the persistently unstable conditions around the Mediterranean, the Sahel and elsewhere, the Office of the Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings (OSR / CTHB) has quickly adjusted its efforts to combat human trafficking and has made it its mission to educate people about the dangerous connections between migration and the exploitation of people.

For 2015, the European Union's External Borders Agency, FRONTEX, calculated over 1.8 million illegal entries that were detected, involving an estimated one million people - more than 4.5 times the number which the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has raised for the whole of 2014. So that you can imagine something: This number corresponds to the total number of inhabitants in a city like Vienna or Hamburg. The first figures for 2016 suggest a similar order of magnitude. These statistics are not only intended to show the magnitude of recent migration flows towards Europe, they should also make us aware of the extent of the response that is required.

Unfortunately, in times of crisis, it happens far too often that businessmen profit from the misery and helplessness of other people. People who are completely defenseless and without a chance are easy prey for human traffickers, who use threats and deception to bring them into their power. Women and children are particularly at risk of having to obediently comply with the demands of those who promise them a safe passage to a better life. With the recent tightening of immigration policies, migration routes have now often become longer, more expensive and more life threatening. The restriction of legal migration opportunities has inadvertently played into the hands of people smugglers and human traffickers.

People smuggling and trafficking - what's the difference?

For many, the terms “people smuggling” and “human trafficking” have become interchangeable, which has blurred their distinguishing features. As before, however, these are two different crimes, as leading international organizations and experts in the situation emphasize again and again.

One speaks of smuggling, at least in principle, when an international border is crossed by a person who freely pays a smuggler to allow him to enter a state. Europol estimates that over ninety percent of the more than one million irregular migrants who poured into Europe in waves over the past year have made use of the services of over 40,000 people operating on loose criminal networks. Europol puts the turnover of the criminal networks active in migrant smuggling, whose services range from forging documents to bribing law enforcement officers, at an estimated three to six billion euros in 2015.

By definition, human trafficking includes certain forms of coercion, whether through physical or psychological coercion, for the purpose of exploiting the victim. According to Article 3 of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Combat and Punish Trafficking in Human Beings, exploitation must include "at least the exploitation of prostitution by others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or compulsory servitude, slavery or practices similar to slavery, serfdom or the removal of body organs". This means that human trafficking is clearly a serious violation of human rights and human dignity. In contrast to people smuggling, it can also take place within national borders.

The question therefore arises as to why the difference between people smuggling and human trafficking is becoming increasingly blurred, especially in the media and the public, even though it is actually completely clearly defined. Interpol has a convincing justification for this: in principle, the relationship between smuggler and migrant ends as soon as the smuggled person has arrived in the new country, but there are indications that the smugglers continue to exploit the illegal migrants after their arrival through threats and additional money claims. Human trafficking is often a direct consequence of people smuggling in mixed migration flows.

To illustrate, the latest data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) show that over 3,600 Nigerian women will cross the Mediterranean Sea to Italy in the first half of 2016 (double the number registered in 2015), of which more than 80 percent fall victim to human trafficking and end up in prostitution in Italy and across Europe. It is an increasingly sad reality that after surviving a dangerous and often life-threatening journey, many women are disappearing from asylum and reception centers and falling into the hands of traffickers who are only interested in their exploitation. Salvatore Vella, Deputy Public Prosecutor General in Agrigento (Sicily), recently complained that many asylum and reception centers now actually function like a "kind of warehouse in which these girls are temporarily stored [...] until they are picked up by the mafiosi".

On the subject of child migration, Europol reports that 85,482 unaccompanied minors arrived in Europe in 2015. There is no evidence of a decline in these numbers, as can be seen, for example, from UNHCR, which showed that between January and June this year the number of unaccompanied minors in Italy rose to 10 524, compared to 4 410 in the same period last year. According to estimates by the European Center to Combat Migrant Smuggling, in January 2016 more than 10,000 migrant children were undetectable. According to the European Union Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová, they are at great risk of being exploited by criminal gangs for the purpose of trafficking in human beings, sex workers or slaves.

In the light of these findings, the OSCE is currently refining its concept for dealing with the dual phenomenon of people smuggling and trafficking in human beings. Only when the connection between the two is properly recognized, understood and analyzed with regard to specific points of contact will state and non-state agents be able to take better action against it.

What the OSCE is doing

Although these crimes are serious crimes, trafficking in human beings in the context of crisis-driven migration is still not sufficiently recognized by both governmental and non-governmental actors. In view of the unique opportunities the OSCE has to mobilize as a regional security organization whose core agenda includes human rights, my team and I in the OSR / CTHB have endeavored to prevent the associated exploitation of Counteract people through the traffickers. I myself have been to Ukraine several times and, in cooperation with the authorities and the Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (SMM), have tried to make them and the displaced persons themselves aware of the risks caused by the crisis.

Official visits have also taken me to centers for temporary protection and initial reception, including in Turkey and Italy, which are located at critical points of migration routes in the OSCE region. It has been shown that assessing the local situation for yourself is invaluable in order to be able to assess the magnitude of the human trafficking risk in these places; and it has been confirmed how important it is for migrants themselves to be aware of the dangers that threaten them. If potential victims of human trafficking recognize themselves as such, then they will also be able to seek help more quickly and escape the abuse and pressure.

Thanks to these visits, I was able to see first hand the progress the authorities have made in identifying potential victims among mixed flows of migrants and refugees. And I realized that there was still plenty of leeway to allow those on the front lines to better screen these flows so that victims of human trafficking could be quickly identified. That was one of the reasons that our office is now further developing our guidelines for national referral mechanisms. We are assuming a participatory approach and will hold initial consultations with NGOs from the OSCE region committed to combating human trafficking and representatives of UN organizations in Geneva on November 23 and 24.

The observation that there is a lack of efficient cooperation programs and that the legal framework conditions are inconsistent gave rise to the idea of ​​an ambitious interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral project that the OSCE is carrying out in Vicenza (Italy) in 2016 and 2017. A first group consisting of around 200 law enforcement officers, public prosecutors, labor inspectors, financial investigators and civil society representatives from the countries of origin, destination and transit directly on the migration routes came from November 14th to 18th in Center of Excellence for Stability Police Units (CoEPSU) in Vicenza. Following the two-day intensive discussions of the theoretical, methodological and technical aspects of combating human trafficking, a three-day simulation exercise was carried out on the premises of the center.

The exercise was designed to foster practical collaboration and shared solutions for victim identification and law enforcement. The main focus was on trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual and labor exploitation, with the assumption that financial investigations are often the means of choice to dismantle complex criminal organizations. Realistic scripts that were implemented by actors ensured that the simulations were realistic. At the same time, the scripts also did not contain country-specific reference elements and were therefore suitable for users from the entire OSCE region. In the search for the best possible reaction to the ongoing events, the participants were coached by experts in the context of the situation.

As a third of the trainees selected for the first simulation exercise came from the Western Balkans, I hope that the practical and theoretical knowledge acquired in Vicenza will be put to good use in the regional context. The exercise is an excellent example of how OSCE-wide projects can complement our support for regional cooperation in South Eastern Europe, where we are working with our field missions and national partners to promote concerted action to prevent and combat trafficking in human beings along the Western Balkans route.

Finally, it should be mentioned that this article can of course only provide very superficial information about the special features of some of the projects that the OSR / CTHB carried out in 2016. Despite the scale and scope of the challenges facing our region, I believe that, thanks to the OSCE's comprehensive approach to security and our close cooperation with international and local partners, we can make a significant contribution to addressing the evil of human trafficking and contain it. But each of us is required to perceive each and every one of the individuals who are on the move here as human beings.

Madina Jarbussynowa is the OSCE Special Representative and Coordinator on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings.