Climate Change and Human Trafficking

The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, has released a report warning of an impending ‘climate apartheid’. ‘Climate apartheid’ is considered to be a state of affairs that will be brought on by climate change where wealthier individuals can pay to move and avoid rising heat and hunger, leaving poorer communities behind. This issue has been described as posing a great threat to human rights and the rule of law, in particular such a state of affairs may contribute to an increase in human trafficking.

The conditions for human trafficking can be generated effectively by natural disasters. Specifically natural disasters create conditions where individuals are vulnerable, and whilst these vulnerabilities may be linked to a variety of different factors one of the most significant is homelessness (See HTMSE’s blog on Human Trafficking and Homelessness here). The International Organisation for Migration has identified a particular nexus that exists between human trafficking and climate change. In particular, the increased risk of natural disasters posed by climate change, as well as the social strain caused by climate change which can lead to conflict, poverty, and instability, tends to a more general possibility that climate change may be a major contributor to increases in human trafficking in the near future. However, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) states that the overlap between human trafficking and climate change is largely un-researched and scholarship on this topic is limited. Drawing on practitioner reports and available research the IOM describes the impact of sudden and slow onset natural disasters on the risk of human trafficking. Sudden natural disasters were identified as driving an irregular pattern of migration as individuals attempt to leave the affected zone and trafficking from refugee camps set up in response to the situation. Slow onset disasters, such as coastal erosion or repeated droughts damaging arable land, also drives the risk of human trafficking by increasing outmigration, increasing poverty, and potentially unemployment. It is these slow onset disasters in particular that may fuel a situation similar to that of ‘climate apartheid’.

Given that ‘climate apartheid’ will be generated by those with means leaving areas that are slowly rendered inhospitable by climate change it is apparent that measures are required to limit the risks of human trafficking and other human rights abuses. NGO’s have suggested that long-term recovery strategies for sudden natural disasters, such as hurricanes, should incorporate plans to address the increased risk of human trafficking. The IOM similarly advocates that with slow onset disasters long term plans for tackling the issues of climate change should also address the changes to social environments that are conducive to human trafficking. Similarly, efforts addressing human trafficking ought to also account for potential changes in the social environment that may be effected by climate change.

Overall it appears likely that the social impacts of climate change could lead to an increased risk of human trafficking and modern slavery, particularly in areas where climate change causes natural disasters. However, in both slow onset and sudden natural disasters it is possible to mitigate the increased risk of human trafficking by ensuring effective recovery and law enforcement practices are built into long term strategies.

The Migrant Crisis and the rise in human trafficking

Has the #MigrantCrisis become a #HumanTrafficking crisis? Read our latest on the escalating situation in Libya and the absence of appropriate international intervention:

Driven by poverty, thousands of migrants have attempted the perilous journey from Africa to Europe across the Mediterranean. Despite the traditional focus on deaths at sea – claiming over 2,257 lives in the first half of 2017 alone –, there is increasing evidence that transit on dry land can also be fatal. Several reports have confirmed that stranded migrants are deprived of food and drink, sold for as little as $400 in discreet warehouse auctions, and are customarily subjected to torture and abuse by their captors. Following the clampdown on sea crossings by the European Union in an attempt to stem flows to the continent, 19,452 individuals have been intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and sent to detention centres in 2017 alone, many of whom have fallen prey to transnational criminal networks. The unparalleled concentration of ‘failed’ migrants in Libya has been accompanied by a rise in human trafficking and modern slavery victims.
Given the complexities of the migrants’ journey, it is a frequent occurrence that the definitions of trafficking and smuggling become obscured. Often victims will believe they are being smuggled but become trafficked through transit or at their destination country. Factors such as political instability, economic pressures and environmental issues are often the catalysts for migrants seeking to come to Europe. Illegal migrants often rely on organised criminal networks to facilitate their passage to Europe, leading to higher risk of exploitation and further blurring of the distinction between trafficking and smuggling. The migrant crisis in Libya provides a unique yet unfortunate opportunity for clarification: the controls aimed at ending the smuggling of migrants to Europe has been the catalyst of human trafficking inland.
The mounting public outcry at the extent of the crisis and uninterrupted progression has gradually set the European Union in motion, but has failed to create momentum in anti-trafficking initiatives. The only step to this effect is the recent agreement between Italy and Libya to create an operations centre against modern slavery in Libya. However, specific information on the centre’s concrete objectives, strategy and operation has not yet been made public.  After a scathing report by Amnesty International condemning the European Union’s role in enabling human trafficking and modern slavery in Libya via its support to the Libyan coastguard, it is hoped that the EU will be pushed into further action.