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Remarks of Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children at the High level side event on trafficking of women and children fleeing conflicts (CSW 61)

This room full of women reminds me that anti-trafficking action has largely been in the hands of women worldwide, both in governments and in NGOs. And this is the reason why the anti-trafficking experience continues to be ase on a human rights based approach, on solidarity and empowerment.

I welcome this side event – and I would like to thank Italy for organizing it - shading light especially on the challenges faces by children fleeing conflict. Although there are many other, atrocious and more visible ways in which children are severily hurt and traumatised by conflict, for example when they are recruited by regular or irregular armed groups, vulnerabilities to trafficking and exploitation of children fleeing conflict zones is often forgotten, and not adequately addressed.

Over the past year my mandate has focused on the link between trafficking in persons and conflict and particularly has looked at the vulnerabilities of persons fleeing conflict to become trafficked, especially refugees and asylum seekers.

In both my reports to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, as well as through numerous interventions at an open sessione of the Security Council and high level meetings, I have reiterated what grass roots organizations and agencies operating within conflict-affected areas or as first responders at countries of transit have been denouncing during the past few years, since the mass migration crisis erupted in Europe: trafficking in persons in conflict and crisis situations is not a mere possibility, but a consequence of crisis and conflict on a regular basis, which means that trafficking is a systemic outcome of conflict. However, conflict-related trafficking is rarely detected, and even less addressed.

For so many people who are forced to flee their country because of armed conflict, the journey of escape has become increasingly expensive and hazardous, with a tangible risk of trafficking-related exploitation. Sometimes these dangers relate to the available paths of escape. Throughout their journey and at their destination, migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, are highly vulnerable to physical violence, sexual assault, extortion and trafficking, as well as detention by national authorities.

This statement is supported by numerous evidence and cases I have highlighted in my last reports:

  • Incidence of trafficking and exploitation, primarily among Afghan, Syrian and Iraqi men and boys with low educational levels and travelling alone, has been detected among irregular migrants arriving in Europe along the western Balkan routes.
  • The journey of female migrants and unaccompanied children is particularly hazardous. Thousands of such women and children have disappeared, presumably abducted for purposes of trafficking related exploitation.
  • Sudanese and Somalian refugees and asylum seekers fleeing conflict, including numerous unaccompanied children, have been kidnapped or lured from refugee camps or while travelling, sold and subsequently held captive in Libya or in the Sinai desert for purposes of exploitation through extortion. Nigerian women and girls, including those escaping from areas controlled by Boko Haram, continue to be trafficked form Edo State to European countries for the purpose of sexual exploitation by organized criminal groups forcing them to repay exorbitant debts.
  • People of the Rohingya Muslim minority fleeing persecution in Myanmar take maritime and overland journeys, often through Thailand, to reach Malaysia as irregular migrants. Initially smuggled across borders, some are subsequently trafficked to fishing boats and palm oil plantations, ending up in bonded labour to repay the debts incurred for their transport.
  • And closer to our borders, since 2011, an increased number of Syrian refugees have been found trafficked for purposes of labour exploitation in the agricultural, industry, manufacturing, catering and informal sectors in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and in European countries of first arrival. Following my official visit, I pay tribute to Jordan for its generous policy towards Syrian refugees. Unfortunately labour exploitation of refugees including children in the country is also a consequence of the disporportion of the efforts of Jordan vis a vis the reluctance of European countries to accept a comparable number of refugees.

As a matter of fact, refugees are often compelled to accept exploitative practices such as longer working hours, lower salaries in exchange of meagre wages, inadequate shelter and other exploitative arrangement.

Children are particularly targeted. Finding themselves in a situation if destitution, girls are exploited in forced commercial sex or domestic servitude. Boys are exploited in agricultural work, in hazardous construction work, in begging, or are sexually exploited as well.

Against this background, however, the response given by countries of destination has disappointingly failed to uphold the principles on which  international human rights instruments and the refugee convention are established:  increasingly restrictive migration policies, insufficient channels for regular migration and family reunification and lack of regular access to the labour market for asylum seekers, further contribute to an increase in the exploitation of migrants, including through trafficking.

Regarding children, the situation is not better.

In this respect, I’m delighted to announce that I will report to the General Assembly,  jointly with the SR on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography Ms Maud De Boer Buquicchio, on children’s vulnerabilities deriving from conflict to various forms of violence and exploitation, with a particular focus on the MENA region.

We will especially highlight – according to a human right and child right based approach – remedies that States should put in place according to interntional instruments, and ways to make States accountable for effectively protecting children from further violence, exploitation and harm.

In fact, In the context of an increase of migration from conflict zones, the situation of children isparticularly worrying.  For example, UNICEF reported in June 2016 that the presence of unaccompanied minors in the migration routes is an increasing trend, making up 40% of the refugees and migrants stranded in Greece. The experience of the Nord Pas deCalais refugee camp has showed enormous problems linked to identification of children.

I would like to point out that the role of the General Assembly and the Security Council is crucial in this respect.

Yesterday an open session of the Security Council took place on related issues, that Urmila Bhoola, the SR on contemporary forms of slavery, attended. 

It is important to continue to keep this issue high on the political agenda of the UN system. As SRs dealing from different angles with severe exploitation – such SRs on trafficking, slavery, and the sale of children, we adopt a cooperatiove approach on a regular basis. All of us, for example, are active in the Alliance 8.7 promoted by ILO to eradicate forced labour, trafficking, slavery and child labour.

The next joint report to the GA – SR on trafficking and SR on the sale of children and child prostitution - is a contribution with a view to continue the full engagement of GA and SC on these interlinked topics.

Of course I am aware of the challenge this issue poses in a number of transit and destination countries, where populist movements and parties adopt  an anti-immigrants approach, and building on feelings of insecurity of segments of the populations, fuel fear and hate against refugees and migrants, calling for harsh repressive measures even for children, especially those close to adultohood.

This is one of the reasons why a constant attention of the General Assembly and the Security Council is most needed. 

I wish that, building on the Resolution 2331/16, the SC will operationalize indications contained in the Resolution, and simultaneously place the protection of the rights of refugees and migrants, especially children, at the same level as their obligation to repress, prosecute and dismantle organised criminal groups, terrorist and fundamentalist gropus running trafficking rings.

In this difficult political climate, it is crucial that international institutions recall everybody that children trying to reach a safe place, and have a future there, are not nobody’s children, who can be treated as they were mere numbers, detained and eventually returned without any consideration of their best interests.

I would like to remember here with enormous pain that too many children died in the Mediterranean Sea and in many other places of the world, as a consequence of war, criminal actions of smugglers and traffickers, but also lack of human compassion and solidarity. Those surviving their prilous jopurney, very often fall prey to traffickers and exploiters.

A lot more can be done to protect children in transit and destination countries, be they isolated or traveling with their families.

I would like to mention here, for example, the pilot experience of humanitarian corridors launched by Italy in cooperation with the NGO S. Egidio and the Valdese and Methodist Church, that according to press news will be soon replicated in another EU country.

In conclusion I list below a few suggestions for further action:

  • There is an urgent need to improve identification of victims of trafficking especially child victims in hotspots and reception centers, especially in places in which large influx of migrants and refugees arrive. Global Compact on Migration.
  • This require massive training of personnel in charge of the first screening, who should be able to identify international protection entitlements, situations of actual trafficking or vunerabilities to trafficking, and child protection needs.
  • For this purpose, a new identification paradygm should be established and implemented, based not on police operations but rather on cooperation with civile society and social authorities, aimed at ensuring assistance, protection and remedies, regardless whether a perpetrator is investigated, prosecuted or convicted.
  • Such procedures should not only identify situations of trafficking but also vuilnerabilities to trafficking and exploitation deriving for example from debt bondage and sexual violence.
  • Children’s administrative detention – which is still largely used in many countries - should be banned at all times, as it is never in the best interest of the child, on the contrary it is a source of severe re-traumatisation and secondary victimisation. A group of Srs raised concern about the recent communication of the Commission, not banning detention of children, and rather allowing MSs to provide for such detention, although in case of necessity.
  • Child victims of trafficking  – as any other victims – must not be prosecuted or detained for  illicit activities they have been involved in, as a direct consequence of their situation of trafficked persons.
  • Particular attention should be paid to girls and their empowerment, as girls are disproportionately victimised in forced sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, bearing in a systematic way sexual violence and abuse also in addition to labour exploitation. Not only should girls’ vulnerabilities be seen and addressed in terms of prevention, but also their incredible strength should be seen as a resource in the fight against traffickinggirls show o. Ironically, strength girls have shown on many occasions, when they have been able to escape from their traffickers, has been considered by authorites as evidence that they are not “real victims”. On the contrary, this is exactly what should be valued in terms of victim empowerment: girls’ incredible capacity to find viable means to integrate into a host society, and their invaluablecontribution -  as survivors, as cultural mediators, as friends – to the safety and freedom of other girls.


UNICEF, “Neither safe nor sound: Unaccompanied children on the coastline of the English Channel and the North Sea”, 2016. p. 5