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Limiting access to international protection puts people at risk of trafficking: UN expert

28 June 2023

GENEVA (28 June 2023) – Displacement, internally or across borders, and statelessness heighten risks of trafficking in persons, a UN expert said today, urging States to prevent trafficking and ensure effective protection of victims.

“Limiting access to asylum and other forms of international protection is likely to increase the risks of trafficking in persons, by forcing people into risky, precarious situations,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Siobhán Mullally, in a report presented to the Human Right Council today.

Mullally was particularly concerned about the adoption of legislation and policy by States to prevent trafficking in persons, which fail to comply with international law.

“The increasing use of accelerated refugee status determination procedures, transfer of refugee status determination procedures to third countries, and the phenomenon of ‘push-backs’ following interceptions at sea or land borders, undermine States’ ability to comply with their obligations to identify, assist and protect victims of trafficking, and to respect the principle of non-refoulement,” the expert said.

She recalled that States have obligations to identify and protect victims of trafficking or persons at risk of trafficking also in the context of interceptions at sea, and in the context of duties to rescue persons in distress at sea.

“Expanding safe, regular migration opportunities, and providing resettlement opportunities and other complementary pathways for the admission of persons with international protection needs, as well as effective access to asylum and international protection, are essential to prevent trafficking and ensure protection of victims,” she said.

Mullally noted that States hosting the highest numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons have limited capacity to assist and protect trafficked persons or to prevent trafficking.

“Where the rights of refugees to freedom of movement, to decent work and to access education or training are limited, the risks of exploitation increase,” she said.

“Stateless persons are exposed to increased risks of trafficking linked to their precarious legal status as persons deprived of their right to a nationality, and consequential violations resulting from limited access to civil documentation, education, employment, social protection, and restrictions on freedom of movement,” the UN expert said.

She raised the risks of trafficking faced by unaccompanied and separated children.

“I am concerned that adolescent refugee children are often not given equal protection by States,” Mullally said. “States have an obligation to respect and ensure the rights of all children without discrimination.”


Ms. Siobhán Mullally (Ireland) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children by the UN Human Rights Council in July 2020, to promote the prevention of trafficking in persons in all its forms, and to encourage measures to uphold and protect the human rights of victims. She is also the Established Professor of Human Rights Law and Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the School of Law, University of Galway. Prior to her appointment as Special Rapporteur, she was a member of the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA), elected as President of GRETA from 2016-2018 and as 1st Vice-President from 2014-2018.

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: Ms. Hee Kyong Yoo ([email protected]) or Ms Clara Pascual de Vargas ([email protected])

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter: @UN_SPExperts.

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