Every year millions of women, men and children leave their homes and their countries. While some people move voluntarily in search of better opportunities, in many cases migration is forced, as people flee natural disasters, civil unrest, violent conflicts, persecution, human rights violations or poverty.
Trafficking and exploitation of people in these emergency situations, and in their aftermath, are increasingly significant. Yet this issue is barely taken into account in the provision of emergency humanitarian aid and long-term accompaniment to affected populations. This lack of attention may lead to a long-term trafficking pattern in so-called countries under reconstruction after a period of crisis or conflict, as well as in countries that have welcomed displaced people or refugees.
Economic exploitation is most common, as it is almost impossible for the people concerned to access the legal labour market due to limited rights or lack of status. This leads to other forms of exploitation. Child labour affects children who before the war never had to deal with it. Exploitation sometimes turns into sexual exploitation or forced criminal activities which tend to become commonplace and even institutionalised.
Civil wars lead to long-term rejection of certain minorities by all the warring parties on ethnic or religious grounds, thus creating trafficking victims over several generations and strengthening clannish mindsets and crime. This scourge extends beyond the borders of the countries initially concerned.
Moreover, the trafficking of migrants opens the door to slavery, as unpaid sums of money due to traffickers create situations of debt bondage that sometimes result in forced marriages. Many people who are unable to pay their traffickers immediately find themselves in a situation of debt bondage and certain families are forced to marry off their daughters to the first prospective husband in order to collect the dowry money. Others, notably in Western Europe, end up being economically exploited or forced into crime.
Many forms of exploitation and trafficking also arise when people are environmentally displaced, of whom the most vulnerable are women and children. Hard to estimate, yet perceptible, are population movements linked to sudden natural disasters (earthquakes, landslides, etc.), and progressive ones (rising water levels, desert expansion, etc.), or to environmental disturbances arising from human activities (dams, deforestation, etc.). The medium- and long-term consequences inevitably raise issues of reconstruction and internal displacement within a country or a neighbouring country, also leading to the reception of environmentally displaced people without shelter, who are exiles as a result of such events and often restricted to settling in refugee camps.
Terror and organised crime
Since the 2000s, armed groups have earned most of their money through organised crime, and the taxation of smuggling and criminal markets. It is easy to see how the trafficking routes in Iraq, Syria and Turkey overlap with those areas occupied by Islamic State. Developments in the Sahel show that organised crime is transnational and can destabilise an entire region, as well as provide a breeding ground for terrorist groups that can quickly evolve to become regional and international security threats.
From November 2015 until March 2016, groups linked to al-Qaeda in the Maghreb conducted three major terrorist attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. The threat from militant Islamists is complex and changing. The rivalry between IS and al-Qaida increases, particularly in the Sahel and adjacent areas. The weakening of al-Qaeda centrally has given its regional branches in the Sahel greater importance. Here they are increasingly linked to the local agendas and conflicts. Boko Haram is also linked to local conflicts, but has sworn loyalty to IS, mainly to show its strength and its opposition to al-Qaeda in the Maghreb.
There is a strong link between organised crime and terrorist organisations. Trafficking and the smuggling of people have been one of major income for these organizations. In many parts of the world, trafficking in money, weapons, and people is largely conducted by criminal gangs or mafia groups. Human trafficking can be a lucrative way for organized criminal groups to fund other illicit activities. In Guatemala, relatively large crime groups are transporting women from other countries – primarily from other countries in Central America – for sexual exploitation.
Mexican drug trafficking organizations, particularly Los Zetas, have been increasingly involved in the smuggling and trafficking of people. According to the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition (BSCC), criminal gangs from Mexico, Central America, Russia, Japan, Ukraine, and several other countries have been caught attempting to traffic victims across the U.S.-Mexico border.