Humanitarian crises, global conflicts increase human trafficking, says UN forum

Recent and ongoing humanitarian crises and conflicts, resulting from war, terrorism, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as increased economic and food insecurity, are exacerbating existing vulnerabilities to and creating new risks of trafficking in persons.

Globally, millions of people have been forced to flee their homes, making them an easy target for human traffickers who take advantage of crises to exploit men, women and children.

On December 2, 2022, the 31 member organizations of the Inter-Agency Coordination Group Against Trafficking in Persons (ICAT), the United Nations’ (UN) leading policy forum on human trafficking, have issued a 13-point Call to Action urging countries, in the context of increasing crises, to put in place effective responses and increase cooperation to combat this internationally-recognized crime.

“Human traffickers prey on the desperation of people affected by conflict and humanitarian crises in countries of origin, transit and destination. We need strong action to reduce vulnerability to human trafficking, also in times of crisis, and close cooperation if we are to effectively prevent and combat the crime,” says Ghada Waly, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Vulnerability is amplified when several crises intersect, creating ideal environments in which traffickers can perpetuate their criminal activities.

Resultingly, victims, including children, are trafficked for sexual exploitation and forced marriage, as well as abducted and recruited by armed groups and used as armed combatants or in forced labor.

Approximately two billion people, equating to over a quarter of the world’s population, currently live in conflict-affected countries. As conflict weakens the rule of law and hampers the capacity to respond to resulting crime, including beyond conflict areas, ICAT has also called for focused action to avoid humanitarian catastrophes and their far-reaching consequences.

“The collective humanitarian response to crisis situations should be strengthened, including through existing coordination mechanisms, such as National Referral Mechanisms, to mitigate risks of, prevent and respond to trafficking in persons,” says Michael Spindeleger, Director General of the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD).

ICAT is co-chaired by UNODC and ICMPD.

Photo credit: Pexels/ Kat Smith

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