Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery. It involves controlling a person through force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to forced labour and sexual exploitation, debt bondage or other forms of servitude.
It is also first and foremost a crime. According to ILO estimates, there are at least 2.4 million trafficked persons at any given point in time. Yet there are only a few thousand convictions of traffickers every year.
Trafficked victims from Nigeria are recruited from rural areas or within the country into involuntary servitude and forced commercial sexual exploitation, street vending, begging and such like activities. Women and children are taken from Nigeria to other West and Central African countries like Gabon, Cameroon, Ghana, Chad, Mali, Benin, Togo, Niger, and Burkina Faso.
Human trafficking in the region includes commercial sexual exploitation of women and children, labor trafficking within national borders and among countries in the region (particularly in South America), and the trafficking of illegal immigrants in Mexico and Central America. According to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the share of victims trafficked for forced labor in the region (44%) is higher than in Europe and Central Asia.
Latin America is a primary source region for people that are trafficked to the United States and Canada. It is also a transit region for Asian victims destined for the United States, Canada, and Europe. Some of the wealthier countries in the region (such as Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, Argentina, Panama, and Mexico) also serve as destination countries.
According to the 2014 Global Slavery Index produced by the Walk Free Foundation, the six countries with the greatest prevalence of their populations subjected to ‘modern slavery’, a term associated with human trafficking, are Haiti, Suriname, Guyana, Mexico, Colombia, and Peru. The ILO estimates that annual profits generated from trafficking in human beings around the world are as high as US$32 billion.
The Root Causes
The ‘root causes’ of trafficking in human beings in countries of origin include the deprival of basic human rights and access to basic needs, thus extreme poverty, especially affecting women, lack of political, social and economic stability, situations of armed conflict and oppression, low status of women in some cultures and domestic violence.
In countries of destination, trafficking occurs due to increasing demand for cheap and exploitable laborers in such places as farms, in factories, in fisheries, in construction zones, and in domestic work. A lack of respect for human dignity results in trafficking for forced marriage and removal of organs.
Other ‘drivers’ may include: a lack of public awareness of trafficking among the public at large and among the vulnerable target groups in particular; the high profit potential for those engaged in the criminal activity of human trafficking; a lack of effective anti-trafficking legislation, and even if such legislation exists, a lack of proper and effective enforcement of such legislation by the responsible authorities. This is often a result of corruption, obstacles to legal migration channels to countries with stronger economies and/or regions with better prospects.
The drugs trade, human trafficking, and migrant smuggling are all billion dollar industries in their own right. They destabilise vulnerable states, displace people and finance armed groups. Often, such activities fuel local and regional conflicts. Organised crime threatens regional and international security and is an important financing source for terror and rebel groups. This is particularly true in weak states, where large areas are outside government control and local discontent of the authorities and corruption are widespread. In such states, networks of organised crime will easily find allies.
Today, many countries in the world are affected by movements of migrants and refugees. These are countries of origin, transit countries or host countries. Sometimes one country is all three. People who have fled their homes are particularly vulnerable to criminal networks engaging in migrant smuggling and human trafficking.
In Latin-America, widespread corruption, weak institutions and a high degree of impunity make it easy for organised crime to gain ground. Migrants and refugees, many of whom are minors, are being abducted by criminal groups. Besides dealing with drugs, these groups profit from smuggling migrants and trading human beings. In Mexico alone, tens of thousands of children have disappeared, according to the organisation Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano.
In addition to narcotics production, a common feature of Afghanistan, Colombia and Myanmar is long lasting internal conflict which displaces high numbers of people. There is a linkage between the high profits from the drug trade and the long duration of these conflicts. Millions have suffered as a result. Hundreds of thousands of people are being exploited and exposed to enormous suffering due to international organised crime. In 2015, the world saw a terrifying example of what human trafficking can lead to. Mass graves in the border areas between Thailand and Malaysia revealed the bodies of a huge number of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh, who had been victims of forced labour and abuse from human traffickers. In April 2016, it was revealed that 75 Syrian refugee women had been forced into prostitution by human traffickers in Lebanon. Tragically, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Migrant smuggling and Europe
According to the Europol-Interpol Report on Migrant Smuggling Networks from May 2016, criminal networks in Europe received between five and six billion dollars from migrant smuggling in 2015. The report states that criminal networks were involved in 90 percent of the entries of migrants and refugees to the EU.
In a similar report, Migrant Smuggling in the EU (2016), Europol estimates that around 40,000 people are involved in migrant smuggling in and to Europe. In the Balkans, old smuggling routes and well established criminal networks have gained new life. These networks include Albanians in Kosovo, southern Serbia, and Macedonia, Greeks in Thessaloniki, Serbs in Belgrade and Bulgarians along the borders to Serbia, Macedonia and Turkey. All of these have ties to Turkish syndicates. The criminal structures have become multinational, while at the same time social media and mobile technology give criminals new communication possibilities.
Since 2000, more than 30,000 people have lost their lives in their attempt to get to Europe, according to The Migrant Files, a consortium of journalists from 15 European countries. European measures of closing and militarising the borders have led to changing routes, made migrants and refugees more dependent on smugglers, and increased the prices and the risk of crossing the borders. Refugees paid 1,200 dollars for a place on a rubber boat with room for 40 people from Turkey to Greece. Criminal groups gained around 48,000 dollars on every trip. The high number of people drowning on the way over was not a concern to the smugglers, since the travel had already been paid for.
According to a report from the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime from May 2015, the revenue from the Mediterranean smuggling is a main income source of Libya’s armed groups based in the Sahel border areas. A chaotic Libya has had a destabilising effect, also on the countries in the Sahel region.