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.
“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, told the General Assembly today 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), Ms. 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,” Ms. 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.“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,” Ms. 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.”