Human trafficking in Europe
“Educating the public raises awareness and fosters a sense of responsibility – as bystanders, consumers and concerned citizens, we all have a part to play in preventing and countering human trafficking.”
(United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2021)
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released its fifth global reporting January 2020 just before the COVID-19 epidemic was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). According to UNODC (2020), the report is “mandated by the General Assembly through the 2010 Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons” (p. 4). In 2021, the report was edited in order to include the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic which has taken a toll on the professionals who tackle human trafficking.
Western versus Eastern Europe
According to the Trafficking in Persons Report of 2021 published by the US Department of State, the European countries still have a long way to reach the minimum standards of action when tackling human trafficking (The Journal, 2021). Recent statistics have shown a pattern: a significant group of victims are from Central and South-Eastern Europe and are brought into the Western and Southern European countries (UNODC, 2021). The current rate of people from the South-East has decreased in comparison to the numbers from 2014 (UNODC, 2021). Nevertheless, this does not necessarily indicate a decline in the number of victims as they can also be nationals of Western countries. Additionally, despite the proximity between the two subregions, most of the victims come from Sub-Saharan Africa also defined by UNODC (2021) as “the largest non-European region of origin of detected trafficking flows into Western and Southern Europe” (p. 135).
Human trafficking is now criminalized in most of the Western and Southern European countries. According to UNODC (2021), the rate of convictions in this region exceeds the global average – the rate exceeded the average for the first time in 2011 and has stayed above since then (p.137). A Europol report (2016) on human trafficking which was assessed the situation in Europe at that time stated that in 2014, 69 % of suspects were European nationals. These suspects came from Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia (Europol, 2016, p. 13). However, the rest of the suspects come from European and non-European countries such as Brazil, China, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Russia (Europol, 2016, p. 16).
As stated in the Europol report (2016), “victims may be experiencing family problems, a lack of employment opportunities or lack of education” but they can also experience “gender discrimination or inequality in the labour market” (p. 10). These circumstances are often the key elements traffickers make use of in order to take advantage and exploit their victims. There are also cases when the victims are refugees fleeing conflict zones to look for a better life (Europol, 2016).
Forms of exploitation
Human trafficking can take different forms. The most common are sexual exploitation, forced labour, and criminal activity (UNODC, 2021). In Central and South-Eastern Europe, women are disproportionately affected by the trafficking in person, with 53% of women being victims of human trafficking compared to 21% men (UNODC, 2021, p. 139). Sexual exploitation is the most prevalent form of trafficking with an overwhelming difference between men and women in the same region – 59% of the victims are women, 35% are girls, while men represent 2% of the victims and boys 4% (UNODC, 2021, p. 140).
Comelli (2021) investigates the case of a female climate refugee in order to better understand the ways in which the climate crisis is linked to gender inequality. Such cases indicate how global issues are interrelated, making it difficult to tackle them individually without looking at the bigger picture. Sunita lost her main source of income, her land due to climate change and, as a result, she moved to Italy (Comelli, 2021). According to Comelli (2021), “Sunita is just one of the many immigrant workers who get exploited on a daily-basis through a ruthless network of illegal labour”. Unfortunately, gender inequality adds another layer to the problem and prejudices that exist in societies around single mothers makes it more difficult for Sunita to take care of her and her child (Comelli, 2021). However, the climate crisis also exacerbated gender inequality, disproportionately impacting women (Comelli, 2021). Considering that the majority of victims of human trafficking are women, the case of Sunita is not an exception. When women find themselves in a vulnerable position due to issues such as gender inequality and climate change, they are more prone to be targeted for exploitation.
The context of human trafficking in Europe proves that there is still a long way to go towards a more efficient strategy to tackle the issue. Each country plays a role in this as well as the European Union that represents a strong power within the region. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is a contributing factor to the issue making the fight of reducing human trafficking more difficult. For this reason, but also because of how complex global problems are, countries need to invest more in how they tackle and approach these issues. On one hand, human trafficking exists on the local level but on the other hand, human trafficking is dependent on the advantages that globalisation brings with it. Collaboration is the first step in order for governments, NGOs, and other actors to be able to address the issue and make significant progress.
Comelli, E. (2021). Helping female climate refugees escape trafficking. Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/italy-women-refugees-climate-change-b1866306.html
Europol. (2016). Situation report: Trafficking in human beings in the EU. https://ec.europa.eu/anti-trafficking/sites/antitrafficking/files/situational_report_trafficking_in_human_beings-_europol.pdf
The Journal. (2021). Ireland ranked worst in western Europe for tackling human trafficking for second year. https://www.thejournal.ie/human-trafficking-ireland-3-5483332-Jul2021/
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2020). Global report on trafficking in persons 2020. https://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/tip/2021/GLOTiP_2020_15jan_web.pdf