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.

Victims of modern slavery at risk of homelessness – Homeless at risk of becoming victims of modern slavery

Homelessness and Destitution
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Significant links can be found between modern slavery, human trafficking and homelessness. In 2017 the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner‘s Office published a report entitled ‘Understanding and Responding to Modern Slavery within the Homelessness Sector’, which followed a 2016 exploratory survey conducted in conjunction with the homelessness charity ‘The Passage‘. The main findings, which have since been re-published in The Passage’s 2018 Anti-Slavery Handbook, primarily suggested that those who are homeless and destitute are at significant risk of exploitation, and those victims of slavery are at risk of becoming homeless without proper provision of long term support strategies; accommodation has been identified as one of the most pressing provisions required for victims of modern slavery by other homelessness charities.
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The report found that:
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“… the majority of homelessness organisations (64% of survey respondents) have, to varying degrees, encountered potential cases of modern slavery…” (p.10)
   
And that whilst there is a degree of recording and there is certainly some awareness of the problem:
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 …data on the numbers of potential victims of modern slavery [within the homelessness sector] is lacking or unreliable. This is either a result of a lack of recording or of a lack of information” (p. 10)
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Aside from the issues in reporting, which were noted as needing improvement in their accuracy and reliability, there was a clear need from the report that greater co-operation was required across different agencies to comprehensively tackle the two overlapping issues. One of the current issues noted by the report is that the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) required reports to come from a designated first responder, which most homelessness charities are not. This causes unnecessary delays, as noted by the report, and clearly demonstrates the need for multi-agency responses, or reforms to the NRM so that a broader spectrum of organisations may act as first responders for a crime that can effect anyone from any background.
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Since the report there have been a variety of handbooks and advice documents produced specifically targeting the issue of homelessness and modern slavery;  from both Non Governmental and Governmental organisations, for a wide range of groups and organisations that may come across modern slavery in the homelessness sector, targeting both homelessness resulting from modern slavery or slavery resulting from homelessness.
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Given the vulnerability of homeless individuals becoming victims of modern slavery, and the risk of slavery victims becoming homeless, the importance of multi-agency responses to both issues to avoid situations where individuals undergo continual cycles of exploitation is clear.  As such, more research into the overlap between homelessness and modern slavery, both in terms of the nature and extent of the overlap and the effectiveness of responses, is greatly required.
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Links to the full report and a short summary of the findings can be found on our e-learning page here.

Combatting the Vulnerability of Refugees Against Labour Exploitation

Image Credit: Deutsche Welle - Syrian Refugee Working at BMW
Image Credit: Deutsche Welle – Syrian Refugee Working at BMW

In many cases, migrants and refugees make vulnerable targets for exploitation within their host countries as they are often in positions of desperation and vulnerability. In many cases their skill sets or education are not suited to those needed in their place of settlement, forcing them into poor and inappropriate work conditions, hard labour or making them vulnerable to recruitment by traffickers to exploitation.

The UNHCR, OECD and other international agencies are working on an ‘Action Plan’ to overcome the issue of refugee employment. This plan aims to integrate refugees into the labour market by overcoming the issues and creating a strategy to identify the skills that can actively contribute to the economy of the host nation.

Through research and interviews, having secure and safe employment is the top contributor to integration in a new society, which protects them from the potential for labour exploitation. Although each host destination has subjective conditions and labour requirements, the action plan is a holistic and broad framework composed of 10 steps:

  • Action 1 – Navigate the administrative framework
  • Action 2 – Provide employers with sufficient legal certainty
  • Action 3 – Identify and verify refugees’ skills
  • Action 4 – Developing skills for job-readiness
  • Action 5 – Match refugee talent with employers’ needs
  • Action 6 – Provide equal opportunities in recruitment and combat stereotypes
  • Action 7 – Prepare the working environment
  • Action 8 – Enable long-term employability
  • Action 9 – Make the business case for hiring refugees
  • Action 10 – Coordinate actions between all stakeholders

Whether in refuge from conflict, environmental or economic hardship, 65 million people globally have been forcibly displaced from their homes, of which refugees make up 25.5 million. Due to the nature of globalisation, these rates are increasing, along with the frequency and types of labour exploitation of refugees and vulnerable populations.

For the full Action Plan, read here.  

Migrant Crisis Reinforced by Large Death Toll Crossing the Mediterranean

Photo Credit: UNHCR/Alfredo D’Amato. An overloaded boat of refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe, as seen from the deck of an Italian Coastguard ship, in the Mediterranean Sea.
Photo Credit: UNHCR/Alfredo D’Amato. An overloaded boat of refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe, as seen from the deck of an Italian Coastguard ship, in the Mediterranean Sea.

The crossing between North Africa and Southern Europe has proved to be the most dangerous refugee passage. Concern has been raised by international agencies including the IOM and UNHCR by two fatal sunken boats over three days at the beginning of July 2018.

On the first boat around 103 people drowned off the coast of Libya, where the coast guard had limited capacity to rescue only 16 men. The mode of transport in which they were crossing was an “unseaworthy and overcrowded” rubber boat marking an example of the dangerous methods that migrant smugglers are using. Shortly following, a second boat capsized with 100 people still missing, 41 saved. This toll contributes to the statistics of over 1000 drowning on the Mediterranean crossing of this year alone.

The Libyan Coast Guard is continually intercepting boats with smuggled migrants who are attempting to cross the Mediterranean and turning them back to be held in detention centres. Although numbers arriving at EU shores are 5 times lower than it’s peak in 2016, over 10,000 people have been returned to shore so far this year, representing another significant increase in numbers. There is also concern over the human rights conditions in the detention centres, where women and children put at high risk of violation and exploitation.

On analysis, although this points to urgent need for action by the EU, this situation needs to be addressed carefully. Bureaucracy between Geneva and the Libyan government led to the 2018 EU backed anti-smuggling operations in Libya including tightening regulation of volunteer boats arriving on European shores, which inadvertently has impacted the increased death toll. The concern of agencies is regarding higher sanctions on boats already in transit, which will bread further desperation and in turn fatal impact if distress calls are not seen to.  Hence, emphasis should be made on reinforcing search and rescue operations, assist the Libyan coast guard and a careful and collaborative approach needs to be made with the international community to curb migrant smuggling and the cause of more deaths during this crossing.

​ It is also important to highlight the ​increase of displaced and vulnerable migrants who are at risk of exploitation, 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.

For Untitled Nations reporting on the migrant crisis see here: