On World Day, UN urges stronger action to shield millions from human trafficking

Young girls attending a school at the Shagarab Refugee camp in eastern Sudan where thousands of asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants are at risk of being trafficked every year. Photo: UNHCR

29 July 2016 – The international community must do more to end the inhumane practice of human trafficking and protect migrants and refugees – particularly young people, women and children – from those who attempt to exploit their opportunity for a better future, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, urging all nations to recognize their responsibility in combating the global scourge.

“All over the world, tens of millions of people are desperately seeking refuge, many of them far from home and even farther from safety. Migrants and refugees face imposing physical obstacles and bureaucratic barriers. Sadly, they are also vulnerable to human rights violations and exploitation by human traffickers,” said Mr. Ban in a message to mark the World Day against Trafficking in Persons.

“We must govern migration in a safe and rights-based way, create sufficient and accessible pathways for the entry of migrants and refugees, and ultimately tackle the root causes of the conflicts – extreme poverty, environmental degradation and other crises which force people across borders, seas and deserts,” he added.

Mr. Ban noted that such issues will be central to the UN Summit on refugees and migrants, to be held in New York on 19 September. The meeting aims, among other goals, to win renewed commitment for intensified efforts to combat human trafficking and smuggling of migrants and refugees, ensure protection and assistance for the victims of trafficking and of abusive smuggling, as well as for all those who suffer human rights violations and abuse in the course of large movements, and also to promote respect for international law, standards and frameworks.

“I call on every nation – whether country of origin, transit or destination – to recognize our shared responsibility. As a first step, we need a strong legal basis for action. I encourage all States to adopt and implement the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its protocol on human trafficking as well as all core international human rights instruments,” the Secretary-General said.

In 2013, the UN General Assembly designated July 30 as the World Day to “raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and for the promotion and protection of their rights.”

“On this World Day against Human Trafficking, I urge everyone to recommit to protect, respect and fulfil the human rights of all migrants and refugees. Creating and supporting well-governed, safe and human rights-based migration and asylum procedures will be an important step towards ending the abhorrent practice of profiting from human despair and misery,” the UN chief said in his message.

“Human traffickers prey on the most desperate and vulnerable. To end this inhumane practice, we must do more to shield migrants and refugees – and particularly young people, women and children – from those who would exploit their yearnings for a better, safer and more dignified future,” he added.

In another message on the Day, Yury Fedotov, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), highlighted that while the international community struggles with what Mr. Ban has called the biggest refugee and migration crisis since World War II, human traffickers and migrant smugglers are taking advantage of misery to turn a profit.

“Criminals prey on people in need and without support, and they see migrants, especially children, as easy targets for exploitation, violence and abuse,” said Mr. Fedotov.

“Armed conflicts and humanitarian crises expose those caught in the crossfire to increased risk of being trafficked for sexual exploitation, forced labour, organ removal, servitude and other forms of exploitation,” he added.

The Executive Director noted that while not all migrants are vulnerable to being trafficking, the forthcoming UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2016 identified a clear pattern linking undocumented migration to trafficking in persons.

Certain migration flows appear particularly vulnerable to trafficking in persons. For example, citizens from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador represent about 20 per cent of the victims detected in the United States, while the legal migration flows from these countries represent about 5 per cent of the total, he said.

Similar patterns are found in Western Europe, where citizens from South Eastern Europe comprise a large share of detected victims.

The UNODC report, which will be released later this year, further highlights the links between human trafficking and refugee flows from countries including Syria and Eritrea, and involving Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh.

“We clearly need to do more to stop human traffickers as part of coordinated and comprehensive responses to the refugee crisis and continuing migration challenges we are facing around the world,” Mr. Fedotov said, calling on governments to ratify and effectively implement the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols on trafficking and migrant smuggling, to assist and protect victims and the rights of smuggled migrants, and promote the international cooperation needed to bring criminals to justice.

“By strengthening action under the Protocols, we can reinforce protection for vulnerable children, women, and men, and help promote the safety and dignity of refugees and migrants at all stages of their journey,” he emphasized.


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