GENEVA, 29th July, 2016 (WAM)– Speaking ahead of World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on Saturday, 30th July, United Nations human rights expert Maria Grazia Giammarinaro urged all States to protect people, particularly women and children, from trafficking in persons, and made a special appeal to those countries hosting victims and potential victims of trafficking among persons fleeing conflict around the world.

“Walls, fences and laws criminalising irregular migration do not prevent human trafficking; on the contrary, they increase the vulnerabilities of people fleeing conflict, persecution, crisis situations and extreme poverty, who can fall easy prey to traffickers and exploiters.

Women and girls raped and sexually exploited during their journey, often pregnant when arriving in a European off-shore, men who have lost all their possessions and are indebted with their smugglers and bound to work without a salary for years, children begging or working to support their families in precarious circumstances, isolated children sent by their families abroad in the hope of a better future: all these people trying to reach a safe place, during their journey have probably been already subjugated by traffickers, or are at high risk of being trafficked.

Over the past years thousands of people including many children fleeing conflict have lost their lives in the Mediterranean Sea. In the first half of 2016 only, the International Organisation for Migration estimated 2.856 deaths or missing persons. Such tragedies have fostered enormous emotion and solidarity in the public opinion, but unfortunately have not substantially changed the terms of the discussion at the government level.

The Syrian conflict in particular is causing a massive exodus that should be seen as a global humanitarian crisis, which requires a shared responsibility approach at the European and international level.

Unfortunately, EU countries have mostly failed to detect trafficked persons and address protection needs among people fleeing the Syrian conflict. Some countries have adopted restrictive approaches, which exacerbated vulnerabilities of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers to human trafficking.

States should establish or adapt existing procedures and services aimed at providing assistance and protection, including gender- and child-sensitive measures, to victims of trafficking, and consider extending some assistance measures – especially help for job opportunities – to people at risk of trafficking and exploitation.

Such national procedures and mechanisms should be established, in close cooperation with civil society organizations, in all hotspots, reception and administrative detention centers, where situations of trafficking and risk of trafficking and exploitation can be detected and addressed.

It is time to take action, and put in place policies based on shared responsibilities, aimed at ensuring survival, relocation and social inclusion of people fleeing conflict, and preventing trafficking and exploitation in the context of mixed migration flows of people.”