ICMC Members Take Action to Combat Human Trafficking and Assist Victims and Survivors

ICMC Members Take Action to Combat Human Trafficking and Assist Victims and Survivors 1
Many migrant workers living in Thailand endure poor and exploitative working conditions and are at increased risk of human trafficking. NCCM’s Human Development for Migrant Workers program provides targeted support and assistance for migrant women, an acutely vulnerable migrant group. Photo: Migrant women from Myanmar attend an NCCM life skills training session in Suksawan area, Bangkok (©NCCM, 2023)

On the occasion of the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, held each year on 30 July, we take a look at the growing global phenomena of human trafficking and the related work of ICMC members around the world

“Human trafficking disfigures dignity. Exploitation and subjugation limit freedom and turn people into objects to use and discard. And the system of trafficking profits from the injustice and wickedness that oblige millions of people to live in conditions of vulnerability.” 

Pope Francis’s February 2023 remarks on human trafficking echo the message of the 2023 United Nations World Day Against Trafficking In Persons, which takes place each year on 30 July.  

The day’s theme for 2023 is ‘Reach every victim of trafficking, leave no one behind.’ In the context of trafficking in persons, the UN defines ‘leaving people behind’ as failing to end the exploitation of trafficking victims, failing to support survivors once they are free, and leaving identifiable groups vulnerable to traffickers. It calls on States to improve their efforts, including by strengthening national frameworks for the identification and protection of victims of trafficking, especially during times of crises.  

What is trafficking? 

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) defines human trafficking as ‘the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit.’ Trafficking is distinct from human smuggling, which generally involves the consent of those being smuggled, and is undertaken for two broad purposes: sexual exploitation and obtaining forced or coerced labor from a person.  

Trafficking takes place in a wide range of contexts all over the world, and men, women, and children of any background can become victims. In addition to the grave human rights violations suffered by victims, trafficking promotes community and family breakdown, supports organized crime, and imposes significant economic costs for States in terms of crime and policing. 

Trafficking in a global context: more victims, fewer convictions 

Although the nature of the crime of trafficking means it is impossible to estimate how many people it affects, the number of victims detected worldwide has increased by just under 300% since 2003. In many instances, the identification of such crimes depends more on reporting by those affected than on  implementation of detection measures put in place by national authorities: in 2020-21, 41% of victims self-reported their trafficking situation to authorities.  

Recent years have seen a worldwide escalation of trafficking risks, as global economic crises, conflict, and the climate emergency drive inequality and displacement. Many millions of people in communities around the world are increasingly marginalized and hence more vulnerable to being targeted by traffickers. Undocumented migrants are particularly at risk, since they often are deprived of full enjoyment of a wide range of human rights. 

Research conducted by ICMC Europe in 2020 demonstrated how COVID-19 pushed many forms of trafficking underground, rendering them harder to detect and leaving trafficked people and those at risk of trafficking more vulnerable than ever. Global conviction rates fell sharply during the COVID era: in 2020 reducing by 27% from convictions secured in 2019, and by 44% from convictions secured in 2017.  

Reduced global detection capacity caused by COVID-19 brought a sharp decrease in the global detection of victims, after several years of steady increase. This reduction was particularly notable for victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation, as traffickers moved them to less visible locations and/or moved their exploitation online. Additionally, as new forms of exploitation emerge, more men and boys are being identified as victims, and increasing numbers of victims report experiences of serious physical violence. 

While trafficking is present around the world, there are vast regional differences in both the types of trafficking and the victims it impacts.  

In Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, more males are detected, primarily men trafficked for forced labor and boys for forced criminal activity. More women and girls trafficked for sexual exploitation are detected in North and Central America and the Caribbean. Other regional variations exist, such as the high rate of child trafficking for forced labor in sub-Saharan Africa, and trafficking for forced criminal activity in Western and Southern Europe.    

ICMC members around the world: reducing trafficking risks, assisting victims 

Around the world, ICMC members are responding to Pope Francis’ words via their work to combat human trafficking and mitigate its effects. Working in a diverse range of contexts, our members are supporting and assisting trafficking victims, building awareness and resilience in vulnerable communities, and developing new partnerships and alliances to achieve longer-term change.  

Musina Roman Catholic Women’s Shelter
ICMC Members Take Action to Combat Human Trafficking and Assist Victims and Survivors 2
Assisting victims of trafficking
In the Central African Republic (CAR), ICMC and the Episcopal Commission for Migrants and Refugees (CEMIR), the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of CAR and ICMC’s member in the country, are working to support victims of trafficking and exploitation amongst returning refugees. 
ICMC Members Take Action to Combat Human Trafficking and Assist Victims and Survivors 3
Trafficking awareness and prevention
In Thailand, the National Catholic Commission on Migration (NCCM) provides targeted training and information to build awareness of trafficking risks amongst migrant communities and strengthen their capacity to recognize and respond to them. 
ICMC Members Take Action to Combat Human Trafficking and Assist Victims and Survivors 4
Networking and capacity-building
In Argentina, traffickers primarily target Argentine nationals and those from other Latin American and Caribbean countries who are present in Argentina. The most common types of trafficking are forced labor, present in many sectors of the Argentine economy, and trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation. The latter also affects nationals of countries further afield who are coerced or forced into traveling to Argentina by traffickers, including those from China and South Korea. 
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International partnerships to end impunity
Globally, the Santa Marta Group provides a forum for the Church to support police efforts to secure trafficking convictions and end impunity for traffickers. The Santa Marta Group is an alliance of police chiefs and bishops from around the world, working together with civil society. Launched at the Vatican in 2014 with the explicit support of Pope Francis, the group aims to act as a catalyst for systemic change, including by encouraging partnerships and bringing together leaders with the capacity to effect change. 

World Day Against Trafficking In Persons, 30 July 2023. 

The Right Way handbook on facilitating integration for survivors of human trafficking, published by ICMC Europe and partners in the Right Way project (available in English, French, Italian and Spanish). 

Rachel Westerby

Independent writer and researcher on migration, refugees and human rights.


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