Global: International Day of Prayer and Awareness for Human Trafficking

Tuesday, 9 February 2016 10:18 GMT

Refugees in transit passing through Eastern Europe (Sergi Camara)

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Rome, 8 February 2016 – The millions of refugees who cross international borders seeking protection often find themselves in danger and devoid of the human rights guaranteed to them by international law. Whether en-route through lawless territory, struggling to survive in under-resourced camps or homeless in inhospitable urban centres, many refugees are ripe for exploitation by criminal groups.

Today for the International Day of Prayer and Awareness for Human Trafficking, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) stresses the importance of ensuring that refugees avoid falling prey to human trafficking and remain protected by providing them with safe and legal avenues to reach safe places as well as access education in emergencies.

Due to the discrete nature of trafficking, the estimated number of trafficked persons is difficult to quantify, but the International Labour Organization places the figure at 21 million worldwide. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 49 percent of trafficked persons are women and 33 percent are children, and 6 in 10 trafficked persons are foreigners in the country where they identified as victims.

As Europol announced last this week, more than 10,000 unaccompanied minors have "disappeared" in Europe after registering with the authorities, many of them suspected to have fallen into the hands of organised trafficking rings targeting refugees. Europol estimated 270,000 of the refugees who entered Europe last year were minors, and according to Save the Children 26,000 were unaccompanied. Besides Europe, JRS has seen that high numbers of unaccompanied minors fled to Ethiopia, Lebanon, and the United States, among other countries. 

In order to ensure these unaccompanied minors and other refugees do not become victims of trafficking, JRS calls on host country governments to implement measures that prioritise their fundamental right to access protection in a safe and legal way, such as humanitarian visas, family reunification mechanisms, increased search and rescue operations and support safe accommodations for unaccompanied minors upon arrival.

Furthermore, JRS believes education protects children, both in the immediate present and future. 

"Not only does education provide children with the opportunity to fulfil their potential and contribute to their communities, but being in school keeps children off the streets and protected from labour and sexual exploitation. Schools offer a safe space to go each day and teachers who care for their well-being. It is our duty not only to ensure refugees receive protection from war and oppression in their country of origin, but also to protect them from trafficking and other risks in their new communities. Education plays a key role in this protection," said JRS International Director Rev Thomas Smolich SJ.

Educational and job training opportunities must be available to refugees at all stages of their journey. Often refugees who flee to neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Ethiopia, etc lose hope in these first countries of arrival, seeing no opportunity to build a future. Thus, they make secondary movements, taking perilous routes across land or sea to third countries such as EU Member States, where they are susceptible to being trafficked. JRS offers safe havens and educational services for refugees in their first countries of arrival, so they are not as desperate or enticed to make such dangerous secondary journeys.

Worldwide, JRS is engaged in the prevention and mitigation of trafficking through a wide array of service and accompaniment programmes addressing the needs of present or potential trafficking victims. For example, in Cambodia, JRS works to identify, protect, rehabilitate and find durable solutions for trafficked victims. In Chad, JRS transitional programmes help child combatants and other trafficked victims reintegrate back into their communities. In northern Ethiopia, JRS operates a centre for youth from Eritrea who have fled forced labour and military conscription. At the centre they can express themselves through art which often deters their peers from making dangerous journeys and allows them to heal from these traumatic experiences. Furthermore, in Kenya, JRS provides safe havens for boys and girls who are unaccompanied and at risk for trafficking, sexual violence or other human rights abuses.

JRS believes such activities are rooted in the organisation's duty to serve refugees, to protect those vulnerable to trafficking and to spiritually accompany victims of modern-day slavery. 

"By accompanying victims, they know we are aware of their stories, and awareness is the first step toward change," said Smolich.

--Jacquelyn Pavilon, JRS International Communications Coordinator