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January 23, 2017

How Migration and Conflict Create a Breeding Ground for Human Trafficking

Every day advocates across the globe face new obstacles in the fight against human trafficking. The ongoing refugee crisis, increased migration flows from Central and South-Eastern Europe, and the threat that ISIS presents throughout the Middle East are just a few of 2017’s challenges for the antitrafficking movement. But these challenges are not insurmountable, and the international community is rising to the occasion.

In December 2016, the United Nations Security Council passed a historic human trafficking resolution, which recognized that people fleeing armed conflict are among the most vulnerable to trafficking. As conflict plagues the Middle East, millions of people have been displaced, providing traffickers a prime opportunity for exploitation. The 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report also explains that people who come from countries with a high prevalence of organized crime have an even greater chance of being trafficked.

Case in point: ISIS has kidnaped approximately 3,000 Yazidi women and children from the norther Iraqi city of Mosul to exploit as slaves. These girls and women are sold to members of ISIS and then subjected to physical brutality as well as sexual exploitation. Young boys are forced to be child soldiers and exposed to horrific violence. Those who manage to escape experience lasting trauma. Although rescue missions headed by local activists and supported by military forces have led to the successful rescue of some Yazidi women and children, these missions are dangerous and can only be conducted on a small scale.

To combat the vulnerability of people displaced by conflict, traffickers must not be allowed to operate with impunity. As rule of law breaks down in conflict areas, traffickers can conduct their illicit business freely. Countries that aid refugees and asylum seekers should work to better identify traffickers and instill stricter punishments for this crime when it is identified.

The obstacles facing anti-trafficking advocates in 2017 require an international response, both to bring traffickers to justice and to shut down the financial incentives that drive this billion-dollar industry. Strengthening law enforcement’s training and ability to investigate these crimes can help shut down these exploitative practices among the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Even in the midst of conflict and violence, collaboration between governments, NGOs, and international organizations can combat human trafficking and improve the lives of displaced people. Through these efforts, the global community can make important progress in increasing risks to exploiters to prevent them from enslaving people. Hopefully advocates and governments will rise to the challenges of 2017 by developing innovative and collaborative approaches to fight modern slavery.