By Sarah Elliott
There has been growing recognition of the heightened need to respond to human trafficking in contexts of humanitarian crisis. Although there have been some positive developments, actors need to take into account pre-existing mechanisms and policies to develop more robust humanitarian protection programmes and counter-trafficking initiatives.
The grave risk posed by human trafficking in humanitarian crises has recently gained serious attention by the international community. Horrifying accounts of sexual and labour exploitation at the hands of armed groups, such as ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab and the Lord’s Resistance Army, illustrate the most extreme manifestation of the problem.
A growing body of evidence has shown that humanitarian crises can exacerbate pre-existing human trafficking trends – and give rise to new ones. However, as recent research from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) argues, this is often overlooked and not incorporated into humanitarian responses. The IOM research draws on case studies from Syria, Haiti and Nepal, as well as mixed migration situations, such as those seen in East Africa and the Horn. Earlier reports, including that of the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (focusing on Jordan) and the Freedom Fund (focusing on Lebanon), came to similar conclusions.
‘Trafficking in persons’ is defined in international law, and criminalized in most states. ‘Crisis’, however, is a descriptive term, often used to describe any number of emergencies, such as armed conflicts, natural disasters and large, protracted and/or mixed movements of refugees and migrants. When searching for practical responses to this issue, I argue that we first need to be clearer about the situations in which these two phenomena come together and, secondly, that we need to build on existing tools and applicable legal frameworks, to avoid overburdening humanitarian actors already faced with competing priorities. There have already been several positive developments in this regard.
The link between humanitarian crises and human trafficking
Some forms of human trafficking are a direct result of crises, such as forced armed recruitment of child soldiers, the demand for exploitative sexual services by armed groups (and even peacekeepers) or the enslavement of persecuted ethnic minorities. The links between other forms of human trafficking and crisis situations are less direct, such as the opportunistic trafficking of displaced people for the purposes of forced labour in neighbouring countries or cases where children are trafficked into the international adoption market.
It can sometimes be difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain whether a crisis situation has led to an increase in trafficking in persons, or whether the arrival of aid workers has merely shed new light on previously unreported trends. Regardless, it is essential that any counter-trafficking response outlives the humanitarian imperative.
When tailoring a robust counter-trafficking response in a crisis context that needs to be reconciled with the existing responsibilities of humanitairan humanitarian actors, it is important to not only identify the type and cause of trafficking taking place, but to identify the crisis at hand, and to take into account the country, and its applicable legal, policy and coordination frameworks.
Acts of human trafficking are often associated with other violations of international law within the crisis-affected country or the region. These include humanitarian law, international criminal law or the international principles and guidelines concerning internally displaced people. For this reason, in the absence of a functioning protection pathway for victims of trafficking, other coordination structures and policies may assist. These could be the UN cluster response in humanitarian crises, the Refugee Coordination Model in situations with refugee populations, or the work of the Platform on Disaster Displacement.
In addressing the needs of people displaced by natural disasters, actors may already be engaged in responding to forms of exploitation not labelled ‘human trafficking’ as such, including forced marriage (through the Sexual and Gender Based Violence Area of Responsibility of the Global Protection Cluster), or the recruitment of child soldiers through UNICEF’s Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism on grave violations of children’s rights in situations of armed conflict.
One particularly underutilized protection response to trafficking in crisis is refugee status. Armed conflict may be a cause of internal displacement and refugee movements across borders. Targeting people for exploitation – such as women for forced marriage or sexual enslavement – could be part of the conflict itself as combatants aim to displace or even eliminate opposing groups. Victims of such exploitation should be granted refugee status in the countries they flee to, and protected from non-refoulement. In turn, this form of legal protection helps reduce their vulnerability to being trafficked in their new location. Where that risk remains, they should be resettled. While some host states provide permanent legal stay to victims of trafficking formally identified as such, most do not. For these reasons, ensuring that victims of trafficking also have access to asylum procedures, both in the region of an armed conflict and further afield, should be considered an integral part of the anti-trafficking response. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) recently published Issue Brief No 3 from ICAT (the Inter-Agency Co-ordination Group Against Trafficking In Persons), which gives more detail on the relationship between trafficking in persons and refugee status.
Enabling victims of trafficking to safely seek international criminal redress is also an important yet overlooked counter-trafficking in crisis response, both in terms of ending impunity for trafficking committed as a war crime or crime against humanity, and in tackling the root causes of the crime itself.
Further, targeted, preventative action taken to help relieve the economic scarcity that often ensues in protracted conflict or refugee situations can help mitigate the risk of people falling into negative coping mechanisms or risky behaviour in order to survive, particularly the most vulnerable. These strategies include linking financial assistance to education and social services, and considering of the cost borne by families not sending their children to work within such assistance efforts.
Calls for more robust counter-trafficking responses in crisis situations, however, may not translate into specific actions in every case. The safety of all parties and the potential for conflicting priorities must also be considered in any such response programme. Given the chaos inherent in crises, identifying trafficked people and managing individual cases may be impossible or even unethical if the services victims need do not exist. Where government actors are known to be involved in perpetrating the crime, the safety of humanitarian actors may be jeopardized by addressing this issue head-on. In such instances, where a direct counter-trafficking response inside the crisis itself is not possible, identifying those groups most at risk, and improving their protection in general through monitoring and referral pathways, might be the only feasible counter-trafficking in crisis strategy to pursue.
Some positive steps
Despite these challenges, providing humanitarian actors with information about how human trafficking affects the groups they serve, and how it can be identified, prevented or addressed in the specific context at hand is a worthwhile investment. Much can be done through local initiatives and targeted campaigns that raise awareness about reported trafficking recruitment methods, or by linking up humanitarian actors with existing national referral mechanisms for victims of trafficking that may continue to function despite the crisis.
There have been several recent developments that suggest we are on a positive trajectory. For example, there is now growing recognition within UN bodies that responding to trafficking and exploitation can be strengthened further as part of emergency humanitarian programming.
UN Security Council Resolution 2331 (2017) recognizes that the response to trafficking in conflicts could be strengthened and calls upon all relevant UN agencies, including the UNHCR, to develop their joint capabilities and cooperate more effectively. Meanwhile, UN Security Council Resolution 2388 (2018) focuses on people displaced by armed conflict and recognizes the need to enhance the protection of any displaced person who is either a victim of trafficking or at risk of becoming one.
In terms of specific agencies’ progress on the issue, an Anti-Trafficking Task Team has been formed as part of the Global Protection Cluster – an established initiative that coordinates inter-agency approaches to protection in humanitarian responses. This task team (of which I was previously a part) will aim to develop a collective position on anti-trafficking interventions in humanitarian responses and to provide recommendations on how best to integrate them systematically into the Global Protection Cluster.
This year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime will issue guidelines on countering trafficking in persons in conflict zones. Work on developing these has benefited from an expert round table of security, humanitarian and protection actors. The recently published UNHCR Guidelines on International Protection Number 12 also give more clarity on conflict-induced refugee movements for asylum decision-makers, while the ICAT Issue Brief No 2provides recommendations to states and the international community on what kinds of thinking and action are needed to respond to trafficking in crisis situations.
It is heartening to see that human trafficking in contexts of crisis has been placed at the forefront of the international agenda as a concern that needs to be addressed through an evidence-based and cross-sectoral approach. However, the recommendations for further action have, in my view, often been shrouded in a certain lack of precision and contextual confusion. It is essential to assess with greater clarity not only the cause and type of human trafficking taking place, but the type of crisis at hand, the applicable legal frameworks at the national and international level and the link between the reported trafficking and the crisis itself. Humanitarian actors should consider which existing mechanisms could be applied and which practical interventions taken in the quest for a streamlined humanitarian response to human trafficking.
Published on The Global Initiative Against Transnational Crime on June 20, 2018
New package of support for humanitarian crises in the coming year, after UK aid delivered life-saving support to millions of people around the world in 2017.
International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt today announced a new package of support for humanitarian crises in the coming year, after UK aid delivered life-saving support to millions of people around the world and averted two famines in 2017.
In early 2017 the United Nations warned that the world was facing its worst humanitarian crisis since 1945. Ms Mordaunt says today that 2018 could be even worse with ongoing famines and conflicts in Yemen, South Sudan and Burma.
The new UK aid package will give a £21 million boost to the United Nations’ Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) so agencies can respond even more quickly to under-funded emergencies around the world in 2018.
It will help to provide critical health services to 20 million people, plus clean water and sanitation to 13 million people and food to 9 million people.
The UK package is part of a wider international relief effort. Globally, the United Nations estimates that in 2018 some 136 million people in 25 countries will be in need of humanitarian assistance.
The UK is ready to deliver life-saving aid to those that need it most.
During 2017, UK aid has helped prevented famines in Nigeria and Somalia, as well as alleviating untold suffering in South Sudan and Yemen. We achieved this by providing:
In addition, this year UK aid delivered 827 tonnes of supplies in response to hurricanes Irma and Maria in the Caribbean. It also provided emergency shelter to 130,000 people affected by the Rohingya crisis and medical support for more than 1 million people in Syria.
International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said:
While 2017 was a year of harrowing humanitarian crises, the truth is 2018 could be even bleaker.
When we see suffering, we instinctively want to help. Britons are big-hearted, open-minded and far-sighted – qualities that define a great nation.
This year, through UK aid and further public donations, we helped avert famines in Nigeria and Somalia, gave emergency help to the survivors of the Caribbean hurricanes and provided a vital life-line to people suffering from conflict in Syria and Yemen.
Britain is giving life saving aid, but also hope, to millions of people around the world. In the challenges 2018 brings Britain will continue to be at the forefront of the global humanitarian response.
Ms Mordaunt also announced ¬ongoing support for people driven from their homes as a result of the conflict in Syria, which is in its seventh year. The UK aid package will give money directly to Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, so they can decide how best to look after their families.
The programme, delivered by the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), will help stamp out child labour by providing more than 10,0000 families with an allowance so that they can buy essential food, shelter, household supplies and medical assistance.
Published on Reliefweb on December 31, 2017
The United Nations Human Rights Council should create an independent, international inquiry into abuses committed by all parties to the conflict in Yemen, Human Rights Watch and 61 other national, regional, and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) said today in a letter to council member countries.
Parties to the conflict continue to commit serious violations and abuses of international humanitarian and human rights law, the organizations said. Yemen is home to the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with at least 7 million people on the brink of famine and hundreds of thousands suffering from cholera. The Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition supporting it have failed to impartially and transparently investigate alleged abuses by their forces.
“What was a steady drumbeat of support for an international inquiry into Yemen abuses has become a crescendo,” said John Fisher, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. “Human Rights Council member countries should live up to their own mandate, heed these calls, and put in place a body to begin chipping away at the impunity that has been a central facet of Yemen’s war.”
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the head of OCHA, the UN’s lead humanitarian agency, and the Security Council’s Panel of Experts on Yemen have also called for an international inquiry into Yemen abuses. They have been joined in the call by dozens of Yemeni organizations from areas under the control of both Houthi-Saleh forces and of the Yemeni government.
Since March 2015, the UN human rights office has specifically verified that at least 5,110 civilians have been killed and 8,719 wounded during the conflict, but believes “[t]he overall number is probably much higher.”
Since March 2015, the Saudi-led coalition has conducted scores of unlawful airstrikes, some of which may amount to war crimes, and Houthi-Saleh forces have fired weapons indiscriminately into populated areas in cities such as Taizz and Aden, that may also amount to war crimes. Both sides have harassed, arbitrarily detained, and forcibly disappeared Yemeni activists and other people, with the number of the “missing” growing across Yemen. Both sides have used widely banned weapons that can endanger civilians long after a conflict ends and have impeded the delivery of aid.
The Human Rights Council in 2015 and 2016 failed to create an international inquiry into Yemen abuses, instead endorsing processes that have – over the course of two years – failed to provide the impartial, independent, and transparent investigations needed to address the gravity of violations in Yemen. The 62 organizations that signed the letter urged the council to establish an independent, international inquiry with the mandate to establish the facts and circumstances, collect and preserve evidence, and clarify responsibility for alleged violations and abuses with a view to providing accountability in the long-term.
“Council member countries have twice capitulated to pressure from the Saudi-led coalition and failed to take a principled stance in the face of repeated war crimes and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” Fisher said. “Governments this September should not cave to political pressure, but instead respond in a way that best helps the Yemeni people and ensures that the council lives up to its mandate by promoting accountability regardless of the parties involved.”
Published on HRW on August 29, 2017.
By Jackson Diehl
The never-ending circus that is Donald Trump’s presidency has sucked attention from all kinds of issues that desperately need it, from health-care reform to the creeping expansion of U.S. engagement in Syria. Still, it’s shocking that so little heed is being paid to what the United Nations says is the worst humanitarian crisis since 1945: the danger that about 20 million people in four countries will suffer famine in the coming months, and that hundreds of thousands of children will starve to death.
Not heard of this? That’s the problem. According to U.N. and private relief officials, efforts to supply enough food to stem the simultaneous crises in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria are falling tragically short so far, in part because of inadequate funding from governments and private donors. Of the $4.9 billion sought in February by the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for immediate needs in those countries, just 39 percent had been donated as of last week.
That resource gap could be attributed to donor fatigue, or to the sheer size of the need. But, in part, it’s a simple lack of awareness. “We can’t seem to get anyone’s attention to what’s going on,” says Carolyn Miles, the president and chief executive of Save the Children.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” says David Beasley, the former South Carolina governor who heads the U.N. World Food Program. “The last eight to 10 months the world has been distracted. It’s all Trump, Trump, Trump . . . and here we are in crisis mode.”
The statistics that Miles and Beasley reel off certainly ought to command attention. For example: 1.4 million children are at risk of starvation in the four countries, of whom 600,000 “could die in the next three to four months,” according to Beasley. In Yemen, where hunger stalks 17 million people, only 3.3 million are being provided with full rations, compared with the 6.8 million the WFP wanted to feed this month. Meanwhile, a cholera epidemic has erupted, infecting more than 200,000 people so far. Miles says another child is infected every 35 seconds.
There’s been some progress: In the South Sudanese state of Unity, which surpassed the U.N. standard for a famine designation earlier this year, the alert was lifted last week following some large and timely food deliveries. In Somalia, too, relief operations have been more effective than during the last declared famine, in 2011. And yet the overall situation in both countries is still frightening. Fully 50 percent of South Sudan’s population, or 6 million people, are expected to be “severely food insecure” in the coming weeks, an increase of 500,000 over May.
In Somalia, the failure of spring rains may push the country into famine status by next month, Miles says. Yet the WFP says it might have to cut off 700,000 Somalis from aid in the next few weeks if more funding does not come through.
Notwithstanding the anti-foreign aid posture of the Trump administration, the United States is not the problem here. By early June Washington had pledged nearly $1.2 billion in relief to the four countries, including a supplement of $329 million announced on May 24. There’s more coming, thanks to a bipartisan coalition in Congress, spearheaded by Republican Sen. Lindsay O. Graham, that inserted $990 million for famine relief into this year’s budget.
Aid officials said getting the money from Washington is a slow process, thanks to the failure of the new administration to fill key posts at the U.S. Agency for International Development. And for the year beginning in October, Trump’s budget proposes a drastic cut of $1 billion in food aid. But Graham and other key legislators have already made clear that it won’t happen. “For all the chaos,” Beasley told me, “Democrats and Republicans still come together for hungry children.”
The WFP leader is more impatient with other nations — especially the Persian Gulf states that have done so much to create the crisis in Yemen. Saudi Arabia, which led the military intervention that has devastated an already poor country since 2015, is partially blockading the vital port of Hodeida, through which 70 percent of Yemen’s food is imported. So far this year the Saudis promised $227 million in famine relief to Yemen but delivered only about 30 percent of that. The United Arab Emirates isn’t even on OCHA’s list of donors. “The Saudis,” says Beasley, “ought to fund 100 percent of humanitarian needs in Yemen. No question.”
Famines used to attract broad interest in the West. Rock stars led relief campaigns, and television networks produced special documentaries. U.S. nongovernmental organizations are looking for ways to similarly galvanize the country this summer. Millions of lives may depend on whether they can find a way to command attention in the age of Trump.
Published on The Washington Post on June 25, 2017.