World Day against Trafficking in Persons

Event Date: 
Saturday, July 30, 2016

World Day against Trafficking in Persons

This year has been another deadly year for migrants and refugees, with thousands killed across the world - many of whom were seeking to escape conflict and chaos.

Migrants and refugees are in situations of vulnerability throughout their search for sanctuary and safety. The absence of sufficient legal and safe pathways can lead migrants to undertake perilous journeys. Every stop, every journey on train, boat or truck, risks the possibility of abuse, violence and exploitation at the hands of those who scorn internationally agreed laws and standards. Those preyed upon are rights-holders, regardless of their immigration status, and they are entitled to our assistance and protection.

Amongst these people are many victims of human trafficking. After risking their lives in arduous journeys, instead of home and rescue, people find themselves subjected to abuse and exploitation in transit and destination countries.  

The often precarious legal status of displaced persons and refugees, a lack of legal employment opportunities and income, limited access to social services and support structures, minimal protection schemes and gender inequality make many women, men and children, especially unaccompanied children, more vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking in persons.

Trafficking in persons is a global problem that affects virtually every country in every region of the world and yet, it remains an invisible phenomenon to the eyes of many people. Victims of trafficking are building our homes, cleaning our houses, processing our food and tailoring our clothes.

Trafficking is present in the sex industry where women and young girls are held in debt bondage; in the construction sector, where thousands of workers are abused and deceived; in farms and fisheries, where victims, including children, are isolated and exploited without being paid the wages they were led to expect; and in the houses and apartments of wealthy people where maids are not allowed outside.

A better understanding of the circumstances that increase people’s vulnerabilities to trafficking in persons can enhance public awareness that human trafficking occurs around us or can even be related to our own actions, involving, for example, exploitation in our own societies.  Informed understanding can also guide national responses to mitigate the risks of becoming a victim of human trafficking and to prompt victims’ identification.

In contrast, failing to acknowledge the vulnerabilities to human trafficking enhanced, for example, by irregular migration contributes to people never being identified and/or assisted as trafficking victims throughout their trafficking experience. As a consequence, victims do not access their fundamental rights and the assistance and protection measures they are entitled to, including physical and mental health support, witness protection and remedies.

A High-level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on 19 September 2016 will address the issue of large movement of migrants and refugees. It is hoped the outcome of this Summit will include a renewed commitment from Member States to intensify efforts to combat human trafficking, to ensure protection and assistance to victims of trafficking and to better implement the relevant international instruments.

Through the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals adopted last year, the international community has committed itself to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, to the provision of access to justice for all and to the building of effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels (SDG 16). In doing so, we have collectively committed to combat all forms of organized crime (16.4), including trafficking in persons. We have further to this, specifically promised to take immediate and effective measures to eradicate human trafficking (8.7) and end the abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children (16.2); eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation (5.2); and to facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration (10.7).

Assistance to victims and those who may become victims continues to be urgently needed, and existing international mechanisms like the IOM Global Assistance Fund and the United Nations Voluntary Trust Funds on Contemporary Forms of Slavery and for Victims of Human Trafficking can be used to provide direct and/or immediate relief for victims of trafficking.

Conflicts and natural disaster have led millions of people to leave their homes and seek refuge in neighbouring countries and beyond, in turn placing stress on existing national systems and resources. Criminal networks engaging in trafficking in persons thrive in contexts of conflict, instability and other circumstances that increase people’s vulnerability. If justice and human rights are to prevail, human traffickers must be stopped from abusing and exploiting the hopes of migrants and refugees. But to do this, the world needs to act together to tackle the root causes of conflict and irregular migration, as well as addressing the exploitation and victimization that many migrants suffer.

In its third year, the World Day provides an opportunity to reflect on our shared responsibility and show solidarity with those victimized. Human trafficking is a parasitic crime that feeds on vulnerability, thrives in times of uncertainty, and profits from inaction. With greater understanding and by working together, we can give trafficking victims, as well as the many children, women and men on the move vulnerable to human trafficking, a much-needed voice and a helping hand.