‘They know they will be exploited during their journey’ – New UN report on human trafficking

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, called on governments across the world to fully recognize the rights of trafficked persons, “who are entitled to assistance, protection and access to justice and remedies regardless of their residence status or whether perpetrators are identified, investigated or prosecuted.”

“Not all migrants are trafficked. However, a significant portion of migrants are trafficked but are not recognised as such by national authorities,” the expert stated in her latest report to the Human Rights Council, in which she reminds States of their obligation to ensure policy coherence between anti-trafficking policies and migration and asylum policies.

“Moreover, a much greater portion of migrants are at high risk of being trafficked, especially when they are forced to leave their countries as a consequence of conflicts, violence, persecution, torture or other human rights violations, or extreme poverty,” she warned.

Ms. Giammarinaro stressed that the fight against trafficking, forced labour or slavery “is hampered by criminalisation and detention of migrants, restrictive migration policies denying any opportunity to migrate regularly including for work purposes, or not allowing migrants, asylum seekers and refugees to work regularly once in the country.”

In her report, the human rights expert stresses that governments should be aware that pushing back people fleeing conflicts not only is contrary to their international obligations, but also results in denying trafficked persons the possibility to claim their rights.

“People entering a migration process, or being smuggled, can become exploited and trafficked during their journey, or at destination, because of their social vulnerability,” she said. “People crossing the sea, if they survive their perilous journey, are very likely to be severely exploited, as we can see in agriculture, construction, domestic work, touristic industry, or in prostitution, in various areas of the world.

“Migrants are often deprived of any belongings during their journey, many are subject to inhuman treatment during their stay in transit countries, waiting for a further journey, women and girls get often raped and sexually exploited,” the expert noted. “Some migrants are even aware that they are going to be sold to someone else, who will exploit them.

In order to prevent and fight against trafficking, Ms. Giammarinaro urged States to address a broader area of exploitation and social vulnerabilities, and adopt effective measures, based on international agreement and cooperation, aimed at ensuring safe and regular channels of migration, effective asylum policies, and social inclusion of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

In view of the recent tragedies involving migrants in the Mediterranean Sea and in South East Asia, the Special Rapporteur told the UN Human Rights Council she will address – as a priority – the link between trafficking and migration, as well as the link between trafficking and conflict, post conflict and other crisis situations.