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Global Refugee Forum: UN expert says States must commit to urgent action to prevent trafficking among asylum seekers and refugees

14 December 2023

GENEVA (14 December 2023) – The UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, Siobhán Mullally, in collaboration with UNHCR, ILO, IOM, UNODC and ICAT today launched a Multistakeholder pledge, in the context of the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva, calling on States and partners to commit to concrete actions to prevent trafficking among asylum seekers and refugees, and ensure effective access to international protection for trafficked persons. She issued the following statement:

“Forced displacement increases risks of trafficking. For asylum seekers and refugees, with limited access to education, decent work, or safe accommodation and protection services, the risks of trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labour, child and forced marriage, or exploitation in criminal activities, are heightened. As we mark 75 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), we must renew our commitment to the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution. We must commit to protection of all refugees without discrimination.

Unaccompanied and separated children are at particular risk in situations of displacement, and must be ensured protection, recognising their unique vulnerability and right to protection as children. With the launch of this Pledge, we call on States, international organisations and international financial institutions, to commit to strengthening effective access to protection. Concretely, this can be advanced by resourcing child protection services, and integrating protection of asylum seeking and refugee children as a matter of urgency.

Too often in humanitarian and conflict settings, the risks of trafficking by armed groups, families, community members or criminal networks, are ignored. We urgently need to strengthen our protection responses and systems and to systematically integrate responses to risks of trafficking. We must move away from the acceptance, tacit or otherwise, of ‘survival strategies’ or ‘negative coping mechanisms’, that are premised on the serious human rights violations and the violations of international humanitarian law of trafficking in persons.

The Multistakeholder pledge that will be presented this week at the Global Refugee Forum highlights opportunities to commit to expanding resettlement, rights-based family reunification, and safe migration pathways, to prevent risks of trafficking. It calls on States to commit to ensuring effective access to asylum and other forms of international protection, recognising that such protection reduces risks of trafficking. The pledge highlights the need to address the gender dimensions of persecution, the rights of women and girls to effective action to prevent trafficking and to protection against refoulement, including through recognition of risks of re-trafficking.

The UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for protection has highlighted that the Global Refugee Forum is a key opportunity to seek to strengthen our collective action, unity and impact. This means providing refugees with safe and legal routes to protection to avoid dangerous journeys and trafficking risks, as well as adequate and timely access to quality protection and support services, including shelter, psycho-social support, health care and legal aid, to meet the needs of survivors, the Assistant High Commissioner has explained.

We must act urgently to end statelessness, recognising the risks of exploitation that arise for stateless persons who have limited access to decent work, education and freedom of movement. Such risks are particularly urgent for stateless children rooted in the denial of the right of all children to acquire a nationality. Discrimination against women in nationality laws may lead to statelessness, limiting women’s equality before the law and right to equal protection of the law.

As we mark the 75th anniversary of the UDHR, we are reminded that human rights are universal, that the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers should not be dependant on a person’s status, and that refugees and asylum seekers who are seeking protection from conflict, violence or persecution must be ensured protection, including from the serious human rights violation of trafficking in persons.”


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 2014-2 018.

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

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

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

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