Photo by Themis Sirinides / ITeams

Human Trafficking Among Refugees

January 25, 2016
Katharine Knoodle
Katharine Knoodle

Reports on the “growing refugee crisis” in Europe have continued for months now. What many overlook are the hidden abuses often experienced at the hands of smugglers (and increasingly traffickers) on their journey to Europe. The dangers in this are evident, yet rarely talked about.

People smuggling has become big business. Rob Wainwright, who is the director of The European Police (Europol), spoke to The Independent about recent trends and figures revealing that in 2015 smugglers made between USD 3-6 billion for refugees in Europe alone.

“The criminal networks stretch from sub-Saharan Africa to Scandinavia, with tens of thousands of people involved in the trade. Mr Wainwright said that Europol identified 10,700 suspects last year alone, hinting at the scale of the illicit enterprise. The facilitators range from petty criminals, making fake passports, to taxi drivers taking migrants across countries and over borders, to established organized crime syndicates.”

Charlotte McDonald-Gibson, The Independent

Natural disasters, war, famine ... all these make people vulnerable to traffickers. People become desperate, willing to do anything to get their family to a safe place. Those who flee such situations legally are not immune to these risks either. Reports of rape, kidnappings, theft, and bribes are common issues on the refugee highway.

According to a recent article in The Guardian, children are a particular target in this crisis:

"At least 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees have disappeared after arriving in Europe, according to the EU’s criminal intelligence agency. Many are feared to have fallen into the hands of organised trafficking syndicates."

How does this reality impact efforts at integrated community transformation? 

If we’re working with refugees it’s important to be aware that most of the people we serve have encountered smugglers. Some may even now find themselves in some sort of bonded labor to pay off “their debts” or run the risk of being outed as illegal immigrants. Sexual abuse is a common way of controlling others, and may also be part of their journey—or their current reality. We need to be looking for signs of this and be prepared to respond to their needs in a holistic way.

The needs of people flooding into Europe consist of more than food, water, and a roof over their heads, though these are real needs. There is trauma, grief, and pain—some of which comes from human trafficking. Jesus knows suffering firsthand and enters into that, meeting every person where they are in the midst of their unique story—no matter how traumatic it may be. He’s invited us to be part of that story.

How should we respond when we encounter human trafficking among refugees?

Countries vary widely on procedures for handling cases of trafficking. It’s important to learn what these are in your community, seek legal counsel, and form a strategy to guide your response. If you’re part of ITeams you have the resources of specialists available to you.

Here are some places to start...