When countries are at war many affected residents seek refuge in foreign countries. The ongoing terrors in Tigray, a region in Ethiopia, have forced 1.1 million people to flee the region. Meanwhile, the Syrian refugee crisis remains the biggest global displacement event thus far with 5.7 million registered refugees. The increasing number of refugees due to wars also means an increased number of potential victims of human trafficking.

The state of refugee displacement today

The world is currently seeing the highest number of refugees recorded, at 26.6 million. There are also 50.9 million people internally displaced, especially in Africa. The conflict in Syria has lasted for over a decade, resulting in 6.8 million Syrian refugees within 128 countries. Additionally, the most recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has displaced 4.5 million people since February 2022. Most of the new refugees in the past year originated from the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.

With the threat of COVID-19, poverty, and climate emergencies, displaced refugees have many worries aside from their current situations. These factors make them more vulnerable to traffickers and increase their risk for exploitation.

How refugee displacement encourages human trafficking

Refugees are vulnerable to many dangers as they cross borders and seek asylum in foreign lands. Without many resources, they lack support and access to basic needs. As a result, they can become easy targets for traffickers who will take advantage of their dire situations to exploit them. In fact, the International Organization for Migration reported that 70 percent of refugees traveling to Europe from North Africa have been trafficked or exploited.

One way traffickers can take advantage of refugees is by manipulating them into thinking they are offering assistance. Traffickers will claim to help with travel and employment opportunities, and those who are desperate to flee violence in their homes will willingly take their offers. Then, traffickers may withhold the migrants’ documentation or keep them at locations where they must perform labor or sex work. Others will offer smuggling across borders for a huge price, but suddenly abandon travelers, bring them to cities where other traffickers are waiting, or use the debt incurred while traveling as a method of control. Without access to safe migration processes, the vulnerability of refugees increases.

What can be done?

Those who can make a big difference in providing aid for refugees are governments, organizations, and businesses. Therefore, initiatives for helping displaced refugees should cross these various sectors.

In the government, foreign service professionals are on the front lines of these crises. By working with foreign governments, they can help to ensure safe programs that reduce the ability of traffickers to take advantage of refugee populations. An example of this is The UN Refugee Agency which co-leads the Task Team on Anti-Trafficking Global Protection Cluster. Through improved screening and protection measures, they can help change the global reality of human trafficking.

Organizations should also partner with businesses to educate and train their staff on the signs of human trafficking. Trafficking has been identified in salons, restaurants, orphanages, and many other industries around the world. There are even reports where those in a children’s home were being trafficked by gang members. Fortunately, the staff were able to spot the signs because of their training and reported the incident to the authorities.

One of the biggest vulnerabilities for refugees is their need to earn an income. Businesses should not discriminate against refugees, but welcome them since they are allowed to work in the US. This will provide refugees with additional economic opportunity that is safe and legal.

Human trafficking and exploitation continues to be a global issue. With the huge number of displaced people around the world, an increasing number of refugees are at risk of this injustice. However, it is not without hope. Human trafficking can be prevented and greatly reduced if governments, organizations, and businesses come together to implement progressive initiatives to aid refugees. Refugee status does not need to be permanent, and these individuals deserve the opportunity to seek new beginnings following their displacement.

Submitted by Iris Jencen


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