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UN expert urges fresh action on conflict-related people trafficking – New UN report

NEW YORK / GENEVA (31 October 2016) - So many people fleeing conflict are now being caught up in trafficking that a new approach by governments is needed, a United Nations rights expert has warned.

“Trafficking in people in conflict situations is not a mere possibility but something that happens on a regular basis,” the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, told the UN General Assembly during the presentation of her latest report*. “This means anti-trafficking measures must be integrated into all humanitarian action and all policies regarding people fleeing conflict.”

Her report corroborates the link between conflict and trafficking highlighted in a recent survey by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which found that more than 70% of migrants who reached Europe via North Africa had become victims of human trafficking, organ trafficking or other forms of exploitation.

“Conflicts always create a favourable situation for human traffickers,” Ms. Giammarinaro said. “As institutions break down, the protection normally offered by families and communities is destroyed. Organized criminal groups can operate with impunity, and people are impoverished or displaced.

“Traffickers target vulnerable people and offer them an opportunity to leave the country,” she noted. “However, this places people at high risk of sexual or labour exploitation, as they are compelled to repay the traffickers in order to continue their journeys.”

The UN expert expressed particular concern about children caught up in conflict, who face a high risk of trafficking and other forms of exploitation, whether fleeing alone or with their families.

“Children working in the informal economy become the only source of income, and often end up in heavy exploitation,” she said. “Children travelling alone, hoping to reunite the whole family in a safe country, are exposed to a range of exploitation to reach their destination.”

Ms. Giammarinaro highlighted UNICEF figures suggesting that 300,000 children were involved in more than 30 armed conflicts worldwide, with boys facing the highest risk of being recruited as combatants, and many girls suffering abduction, rape and sexual slavery.

The Special Rapporteur emphasized the declaration made at the recent New York summit on migrants and refugees, calling for the establishment of safe and legal channels of migration as the main tool to prevent trafficking and exploitation. She reminded States that their policies could exacerbate the vulnerability of people fleeing conflict.

States dealing with an influx of refugees and migrants should work with NGOs and international organizations to ensure people were interviewed in a friendly environment, to identify people at risk of trafficking, and to provide affected people with tailored solution, she added.

Ms. Giammarinaro also urged States to ensure that children were never detained. “The best interests of the child must be the primary concern,” she said. “As a consequence, the detention of children must be banned at all times, as it is never in the best interests of the child.”

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur report: http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/71/303

Ms. Maria Grazia Giammarinaro (Italy) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2014. Ms. Giammarinaro has been a Judge since 1991 and currently serves as a Judge at the Civil Court of Rome. She was the Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings of the OSCE, and served in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Justice, Freedom and Security in Brussels, where she was responsible for combating human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. She drafted the EU Directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Trafficking/Pages/TraffickingIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact Selma Vadala (+41 22 917 9108 / svadala@ohchr.org / srtrafficking@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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