Trafficking and smuggling: a very short introduction

Lina comes from a poor family in Cambodia. At the age of nine, her parents entrusted her to an acquaintance who said she could find Lina work in Thailand. The woman promised to send Lina’s parents part of her wages to help support their family. In Bangkok, Lina stood for long hours outside nightclubs in the red-light district selling flowers and candy to tourists. Her trafficker took her earnings, and beat her when sales were low .

When Peter arrived in London, a man was waiting for him. He took Peter to Peterborough, the place of his future life and work. He was supposed to work for one Roma family and to live at their place in a small room with 4-6 other men working for them as well. Right away, they took his ID… Peter didn’t see his ID again. He became a person without identity, with no possibility to escape. He started to work with some other people, doing harvesting. They would work 12 to 16 hours per day, receiving poor food once per day and not getting enough of sleep at night. After working outside, Peter often had to do clean the family’s house. Members of the family started to be aggressive, threatening their “slaves” and blackmailing them.

Perhaps the most chilling is an interview with an imprisoned trafficker. He looks at the camera nervously, recounting his exploits with a shy smile… “I used my fist. I was, at that time, more youthful… So I beat them with my fists and my feet…” He giggles nervously and continues, “No, but I think that they will have this nightmare for the rest of their lives. Some of them manage to change, but they will never be normal women.” His lips twist into a smile, a slight shrug of his shoulders.

And this is a business that earns 150 billion dollars a year.

July 30 was World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. It’s a way to raise awareness, not in a student activist kind of way that will end in a change.org petition, but as an opportunity to discuss something that’s very important and also very often poorly described. When we talk about trafficking, usually two scenarios come up: migrants paying to be brought across the Mediterranean; and sex trafficking. A google search also brings up modern day slavery, child labour in developing countries, and other kinds of phenomena. The problem is, much of this isn’t actually trafficking. Or of it’s trafficking, it’s also other things.

1. Trafficking and smuggling are not the same thing

People smuggling is basically receiving money to move people countries where they are not nationals or residents. It’s criminalized in most places, and there is also a convention (Smuggling of Migrants Protocol) that includes an obligation to criminalize smuggling. But smuggling is solely about the “procurement of… illegal entry”. We are presuming that all of this were voluntary – if the entry were legal, it wouldn’t be a smuggler, it would be a travel agency. (Except, of course, if someone is a refugee, they may not be penalized for illegal entry, and frequently there is no legal avenue for refugees to use, so they must perforce use smugglers)

Trafficking, on the other hand, involves deceiving someone and exploiting them. The official definition is very long but very worth considering:

Trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs

So, people who have been trafficked have been (a) deceived, and (b) exploited, or intended to be exploited. As an example, if person A wants to enter country X, where they are not a resident or national, in order to get a better job and pays person B to take them there, that’s smuggling. If person A wants to get a better job in the city, but is tricked by person B, who instead transfers person A to country X where person A is forced into prostitution, that’s trafficking. A typical story to entice trafficking victims is to offer work in a foreign country, promising high wages and a good life. Frequently, the victim will incur “costs” for the journey which they are then expected to “earn back” by working for the trafficker or associates.

The two terms are often conflated. And in fact, a smuggler, who is transporting people to another country, might be transporting trafficked people (if the smuggler had no idea, it’s smuggling; if they knew that the person was trafficked, it’s trafficking). For example, a recent article from the Guardian talks about the high number of trafficking victims among migrants arriving to Europe:

“The trafficking of Nigerian women from Libya to Italy by boat is reaching “crisis” levels, with traffickers using migrant reception centres as holding pens for women who are then collected and forced into prostitution across Europe, the UN’s International Office for Migration (IOM) warns.  About 3,600 Nigerian women arrived by boat into Italy in the first six months of this year, almost double the number who were registered in the same time period last year, according to the IOM.”

2. Economic migrants and refugees are not the same thing, but both can be victims of trafficking

Economic migrants are people who are seeking a better life elsewhere. Refugees are people fleeing war and persecution. Sometimes, there is overlap, particularly in countries where poverty is caused by systematic negligence or targeting specific groups.

But both economic migrants and refugees often share the characteristic of being desperate to leave and, frequently, in possession of few resources with which to leave. They may be more inclined to take seemingly appealing offers of work elsewhere, or in their desperation place themselves in unscrupulous hands. UNHCR has quite a lot to say on the intersection of refugees and human trafficking, including highlighting the fact that some people may have started out as migrants, but fell victim to trafficking, and could be at risk of persecution if they were to go back to their home countries due to threats by the traffickers, which would then make them refugees. Not all refugees are trafficked and not all trafficking victims are refugees, but there is frequently overlap. The essential questions are: (a) why they left; (b) how they traveled and under what circumstances; and (c) what would happen if they go back.

Desperation also breeds exploitation:

Young people in refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk are being sexually exploited and forced to commit crimes by traffickers, according to a Unicef report.

The document, which draws on six months of interviews and is due to be published on Thursday, paints a disturbing picture of the abuse of unaccompanied minors in camps in northern France. It says children are being subjected to sexual violence by traffickers who promise passage to the UK.

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3. Trafficking isn’t only about sex trafficking

It makes for the best headlines and the most salacious stories, but there are lots of kinds of trafficking. Forced labour takes different forms, including debt bondage, trafficking and other forms of modern slavery. The victims are the most vulnerable – women and girls forced into prostitution, migrants trapped in debt bondage, and sweatshop or farm workers kept there by clearly illegal tactics and paid little or nothing.  Forced labour and modern-day slavery account for almost 70 percent of trafficked persons: almost 21 million people are victims of forced labour, trapped in jobs which they were coerced or deceived into and which they cannot leave. That’s approximately the population of Switzerland and Belgium combined (or 3 out of every 1,000 people).

Facts and figures

  • Almost 21 million people are victims of forced labour – 11.4 million women and girls and 9.5 million men and boys.
  • Almost 19 million victims are exploited by private individuals or enterprises and over 2 million by the state or rebel groups.
  • Of those exploited by individuals or enterprises, 4.5 million are victims of forced sexual exploitation.
  • Forced labour in the private economy generates US$ 150 billion in illegal profits per year.
  • Domestic work, agriculture, construction, manufacturing and entertainment are among the sectors most concerned.
  • Migrant workers and indigenous people are particularly vulnerable to forced labour.
  • 18.7 million (90 %) are exploited in the private economy, by individuals or enterprises. Of these, 4.5 million (22 per cent) are victims of forced sexual exploitation and 14.2 million (68 per cent) are victims of forced labour exploitation in economic activities, such as agriculture, construction, domestic work or manufacturing.
  • 2.2 million (10%) are in state-imposed forms of forced labour, for example in prisons, or in work imposed by the state military or by rebel armed forces.
  • 5.5 million (26 %) of victims are below 18 years.
  • 9.1 million victims (44 %) have moved either internally or internationally. The majority, 11.8 million (56 %), are subjected to forced labour in their place of origin or residence. Cross-border movement is heavily associated with forced sexual exploitation.

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4. Trafficking happens right in your backyard: in Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere

According to IOM, the Developed Economies and European Union have 1.5 million (7 per cent) forced labourers. “EU authorities registered 15,846 victims of human trafficking in 2013-14, including 2,375 children, but the report’s authors believe the true number of victims is far higher. More than two-thirds (67%) of people were trafficked into sex work; about one-fifth (21%) were put into forced labour, often as agricultural workers, a form of slavery that disproportionately affected men. The remainder of trafficking victims faced an equally grim catalogue of exploitation, ranging from domestic servitude to forced begging. […] More than two-thirds of the identified victims were EU nationals, with the largest numbers coming from Romania, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Hungary and Poland. The remainder came from all over the world, with Nigerians, Chinese and Albanians especially prominent.”

Additional examples:

 

 

 

Articles of interest:

 

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