Sending the Vulnerable to Traffickers: Refugees and Migration Policies
By Amber Moffett, Research Assistant
“With the expanded scope of informed participants across sectors, and an increase in transnational research on core legal issues and procedures, there is hope for a significantly stronger international refugee protection regime. The search for the necessary political will, however, remains a truly eternal quest.”
The recent refugee crisis in Europe has brought out news stories of fences being constructed in Macedonia, children dying from boats capsizing on their way to Greece, and nations that are overwhelmed with the vast numbers of asylum-seekers they are receiving. Most of the current debate is focused on the migration policies in the EU – How many refugees will be accepted into host countries? How to keep refugees out? Whom to accept and whom to send back? What to do with the flood of asylum-seekers already present? But there is one factor weighing heavily on the lives of refugees that continues to go overlooked – their vulnerability to human trafficking.
Because they are fleeing from situations of conflict, refugees are exposed to prolonged conditions of insecurity, isolation, persecution, and hunger – leaving them incredibly vulnerable to situations of exploitation, abuse, and trafficking. The large numbers of those displaced increases competition over already limited resources and thus increase desperation, making displaced populations more willing to take risks and more susceptible to exploitation as they grasp at any means of survival.
For various reasons, sanctuary is becoming increasingly harder to attain for refugees. The massive disparity between those with a need for resettlement and those who actually receive resettlement creates tremendous opportunities for traffickers.
Refugee camps are set up to provide a safe haven for those who have fled from conflict. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the solution it’s intended to be. Life for those in refugee camps is sometimes worse than being on the run. Large numbers of desperate people in overcrowded situations create an entirely new set of problems. Even the simple need to obtain and provide food for dependents is exploited. Deaths, kidnapping, robbery, and sexual violence towards women and men alike are exceedingly common in many camps.
In camp areas where families are unable to generate an income, it is not uncommon for women to become the sole earners through sex work. Some are forced by husbands and parents, others do so through the sheer necessity of survival. In the 1990s, several reports from Africa revealed repeated instances of sexual violence among women, girls, and boys. Sudanese girls and women were being kidnapped for forced marriage.
Unfortunately, this has not changed much in recent years. Less than a year ago women’s organizations in Germany warned of a ‘culture of rape and violence’ that pervaded Giessen, one of Germany’s largest refugee camps. These conditions leave women in particular, more desperate for opportunities to leave the camp, and more willing to accept dangerous or risky arrangements to do so.
The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs has reported that it has recently become increasingly difficult to find host countries that are willing to accept substantial numbers of refugees. Though UNHCR works to get as many refugees as possible resettled into host countries as quickly as possible, a processing rate of under 5 percent displays a marked lack of effectiveness in being able to do so. Considering most refugee camps around the world are struggling with overcrowding, and the current complications created by the floods of refugees fleeing to Europe from Syria and the surrounding areas, a gross imbalance continues between Western policies regarding refugee acceptance and the numbers of refugees seeking help.
Many traffickers and smugglers are part of other criminal enterprises as well, or are willing to make extra money by selling those in their care to others who would exploit them. Scholars at Harvard found through interviews in Lebanon that many women have been trafficked for sex and children exploited for labor. The International Organization for Migration found that of the 4,000+ women and children fleeing from Nigeria, 80% were trafficked.
For various reasons, sanctuary is becoming increasingly difficult to attain for refugees and asylees alike. This huge disparity between those with a need for resettlement and those who actually receive resettlement creates tremendous opportunities for traffickers. Providing more legal alternatives, such as permanent resettlement or temporary and work visas could alleviate the need for the refugee population to rely on potential traffickers for entry into other nations. As UN Special Rapporteur Maria Grazia Giammarinaro states, “It is imperative today to acknowledge that not only specific anti-trafficking policies, but all related policies, and especially migration policies must be consistent with the priority of preventing and eradicating trafficking and exploitation.”
Without safer alternatives, refugees may have few other options than to fall back on the services traffickers provide, and the risks that come with them. However, the lack of political will, disenchantment with hosting refugees, and broadening migration trends are continuing to limit progress in asylum systems.
Image via Climatalk .in
About the Human Trafficking Center
The Human Trafficking Center, housed in the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, is the only two-year, graduate-level, professional-training degree in human trafficking in the United States. One way graduate students contribute to the study of human trafficking is by publishing research-based blogs. The HTC was founded in 2002 to apply sound research and reliable methodology to the field of human trafficking research and advocacy.
Founded in 1964, the Josef Korbel School of International Studies is one of the world’s leading schools for the study of international relations. The School offers degree programs in international affairs and is named in honor of its founder and first dean, Josef Korbel.
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