Greater awareness of human trafficking needed

Refugees in transit passing through Eastern Europe (Sergi Camara)

Refugees in transit passing through Eastern Europe (Sergi Camara)

Whether en-route through lawless territory, struggling to survive in under-resourced camps or homeless in inhospitable urban centres, many refugees are vulnerable to exploitation by criminal groups.

On the International Day of Prayer and Awareness for Human Trafficking, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) stressed the importance of ensuring that refugees avoid falling prey to human trafficking by providing them with safe and legal avenues to reach secure places.

Whether en-route through lawless territory, struggling to survive in under-resourced camps or homeless in inhospitable urban centres, many refugees are vulnerable to exploitation by criminal groups.

The estimated number of trafficked persons is difficult to quantify but the International Labour Organization places the figure at 21 million worldwide. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 49 percent of trafficked persons are women and 33 percent are children, and 6 in 10 trafficked persons are foreigners in the country where they identified as victims.

Europol estimated 270,000 of the refugees who entered Europe last year were minors, and according to Save the Children 26,000 were unaccompanied. More than 10,000 unaccompanied minors have “disappeared” in Europe after registering with the authorities, according to Europol numbers.

To ensure unaccompanied minors and other refugees do not become victims of trafficking, JRS calls on host country governments to prioritise their fundamental right to access safe and legal protection. Such measures would include humanitarian visas, family reunification mechanisms, increased search and rescue operations and support safe accommodations for unaccompanied minors upon arrival.

Furthermore, JRS believes education plays a key role in the protection of children, both in the immediate present and future.

“Schools offer a safe space to go each day and teachers who care for their well-being,” said JRS International Director Rev Thomas Smolich SJ. “Education provides children with the opportunity to fulfil their potential and contribute to their communities, but being in school keeps children off the streets and protected from labour and sexual exploitation.”

Educational and job training opportunities must be available to refugees at all stages of their journey said Rev Smolich SJ.

“It is our duty not only to ensure refugees receive protection from war and oppression in their country of origin but also to protect them from trafficking and other risks while they are in transit and in their new communities,” he said.

JRS offers safe havens and educational services for refugees in their first countries of arrival, so they are not as desperate or enticed to make dangerous secondary journeys.

“Often refugees who flee to neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Ethiopia, and they lose hope in these first countries of arrival, seeing no opportunity to build a future. That is when they make secondary journeys, taking perilous routes across land or sea attempting to reach third countries such as EU Member States, where they are susceptible to being trafficked.”

Worldwide, JRS is engaged in the prevention and mitigation of trafficking through a wide array of service and accompaniment programmes addressing the needs of present or potential trafficking victims. For example:

  • in Cambodia, JRS works to identify, protect, rehabilitate and find durable solutions for trafficked victims.
  • in Chad, JRS transitional programmes help child combatants and other trafficked victims reintegrate back into their communities.
  • in northern Ethiopia, JRS operates a centre for youth from Eritrea who have fled forced labour and military conscription. This centre offers refuge, a chance to heal from their traumatic experiences, and an opportunity to express themselves through art often acts as a deterrent from continuing on a dangerous journey.
  • in Kenya, JRS provides safe havens for boys and girls who are unaccompanied and at risk sexual violence or other human rights abuses, including being trafficked as sex workers.

JRS believes such activities are rooted in the organisation’s duty to serve refugees, to protect those vulnerable to trafficking and to spiritually accompany victims of modern-day slavery.

“By accompanying victims, they know we are aware of their stories, and awareness is the first step toward change,” said Smolich.

–Jacquelyn Pavilon, JRS International Communications Coordinator

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