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Developing capacities to identify and respond to the needs of victims

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Trafficking in human beings is an international problem that threatens the security and well-being of millions of vulnerable people around the world. It is estimated that globally, there are about 20 to 30 million people coerced into exploitative situations, where they are subjected to physical and mental violence and abuse. The human trafficking market accounts for EUR 28 billion per year, making it the third largest international crime industry, after illegal drugs and firearms. With half of the profits coming from industrialised countries, it is an important issue for the European Union (EU) and its Member States. Identifying the degree of trafficking across Europe and developing a better understanding of how to protect and care for the victims is a pressing challenge.

Panel of the "Developing Capacity to Identify and to Respond to Trafficking” conference. © Red Cross EU Office

In order to contribute to learning in this area and enhance their humanitarian responses to better address the specific needs of trafficked people, the British Red Cross and the Croatian Red Cross implemented the joint EU-funded Persons at Risk of Trafficking in Europe (PROTECT) project – a 2-year initiative aimed at improving the recognition of victims of human trafficking, and the quality of support offered to them. 

During the project’s closing conference "Developing Capacity to Identify and to Respond to Trafficking” on 9 September 2016 at the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels, decision-makers, advocates and practitioners discussed the challenges that human trafficking poses in Europe, which has seen an 18% increase in the number of trafficked people since 2015 (Eurostat, 2015). 

The current humanitarian crisis related to migration has changed the nature of trafficking. Restrictive migration policies and border controls, coupled with the scarcity of safe, legal avenues to access the EU, force many people to take unsafe routes and put their lives in the hands of dangerous people. Migrants continue to be at risk throughout their journeys. Smuggled migrants are extremely vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers. They arrive in a new place, knowing no one, not speaking the language and completely unaware of their rights or of the organisations that can offer them assistance. Lost and alone, they might fear asking local officials for help due to their lack of legal status. When a stranger approaches them and offers them help in finding a job, they jump at the chance. However, this is how many vulnerable people first fall into the hands of traffickers.

Alex Fraser, Director for Refugee Support and Restoring Family Links, British Red Cross. © Red Cross EU Office

During the conference, Alex Fraser, director for Refugee Support and Restoring Family Links at the British Red Cross, emphasised the importance of developing compassionate humanitarian policies to stop the domino effects on the vulnerabilities faced by trafficked people. Without protocol that is sensitive to the needs of those trafficked, victims can become further traumatised and withdrawn, making them even more susceptible to additional abuses by traffickers. "They must be recognised as victims of exploitation deserving of help and assistance, rather than being seen as criminals,” he said. 

While prosecuting the criminal networks involved is instrumental to fighting human trafficking, it is also crucial to recognise and address the extreme and complex vulnerabilities of the victims. Often faced with a lack of options, they may fear for their safety, or have limited access to resources and support. The highly traumatic experience of being trafficked can have severe and long-lasting physical and psychological consequences, as situations of sexual exploitation and forced labour are common. It is therefore vital that activities to support the integration and social inclusion of victims of human trafficking employ a holistic approach, that start with psychosocial rehabilitation. 

During the panel discussion, Nives Vudric, Head of Unit for Prevention of Human Trafficking and Psychosocial Support at the Croatian Red Cross, described how the Croatian Red Cross worked to identify and assist potential victims of trafficking amongst the thousands of migrants that passed through Croatia in September 2016. "We as the Red Cross, were able to provide some basic assistance to potential victims of human trafficking. We could provide them with psychosocial support, accommodation, humanitarian assistance, as well as refer them to specialised entities,” she said.

Catherine Bearder, Member of the European Parliament (ALDE, UK). Photo: Red Cross EU Office

While providing their assistance, the Croatian Red Cross identified groups that were specifically vulnerable to trafficking, including "children, unaccompanied minors, and young women traveling alone without any family members”. In order to address the needs of these particularly vulnerable groups, it is essential not only to train the experts, but also frontline practitioners like the police, border guards and doctors so that potential victims may receive continuous help and support. 

Catherine Bearder, Member of the European Parliament (ALDE,UK) closed the conference by asserting that increased focus should be placed on the victims. "These people have been forced, deceived, exploited and demeaned. They are at risk of violence”, she said. "We must step up awareness campaigns for the public to spot trafficking,” she urged.

For media inquiries, please contact Eva Oyon on: eva.oyon@redcross.eu or +32 2 235 09 22