Contrary to what we should expect nowadays, human trafficking is still a reality. More than 20 million people around the globe fall victims to modern slavery. Victims are often entangled in forced labour, seen a source of human organs or for sexual exploitation.
This is not tolerable and the European Union core values condemn it. Prohibition of trafficking in human beings is expressed in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Article 5.3) and we are committed to prevent and fight against this phenomenon inside and outside of the EU.
Trafficking in human beings is often an invisible reality. The figures available only represent a percentage of what is known. Recent reports point out that women and girls remain the overwhelming majority of the victims (66% and 13%). The figures are much higher when it comes to sexual exploitation, as women and girls represent 98% of the victims.
Agnès* and Teodora are two victims of human trafficking. Agnès* arrived as an 18-year old orphan to study in France and was forced to work long hours without pay or contract. She found support in neighbours who helped her escape. Teodora was forced to become a prostitute in Belgium, having her son held as currency for her exploitation. Her deposition to the authorities was essential to the arrest of her procurers.
Men are more likely to be integrated in chains of intensive forced labour. This was the case for Mark. He was forced to work under conditions of slavery in the UK, the Netherlands and Sweden. “There was no rest, every waking minute of every day was spent working, somehow”, Mark shared after being rescued by Swedish police.
Stopping human trafficking is a top priority for the EU. A comprehensive approach has been designed and put into practice to prevent human trafficking, prosecute criminals, protect victims and establish partnerships. The legal framework of these actions is anchored in the EU Anti-Trafficking Directive, calling for, and putting into, action the motto “Working together to address trafficking in human beings”.
The gender-specific nature of human trafficking is acknowledged by the EU. It implies that EU assistance and support measures to victims also need to be gender-specific where appropriate. The vulnerability of Children to human trafficking cannot be ignored, highlighting the importance of prevention and protection of victims and potential victims of younger ages.
The ambition of eradicating Human Trafficking is reinforced in the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024. At the time of its presentation, the High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell said: “Crisis situations, as the one we are living with the Coronavirus' pandemic, pose particular challenges to the effective exercise and protection of human rights, and put the functioning of our democracies to the test. This is an opportunity for Europe to stand up for its values and interests. We need the courage and ambition to tackle challenges together.”
Addressing this serious crime involves the integration of several agents as well as the creation of synergies. The EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator assumes the responsibility of improving coordination and coherence among EU institutions, EU agencies, Member States and international actors, and for developing existing and new EU policies to address trafficking in human beings.
A closer partnership between EU Member States and EU institutions can be translated in a closer cross-border cooperation and a continued open dialogue between police, judicial and financial authorities. The sharing of information and best practices, as well as enhanced cooperation with Europol and Eurojust, are key for the coordination of investigations and prosecutions of these cases.
Partnership with third countries, regions and organisations at the international level is also important to create an impact at global level. The EU has agreed in 2009 on an Action Oriented Paper to reach this goal.
EU Civilian Missions around the world have a role to play when it comes to the prevention of human trafficking. Capacity building actions are oriented to local officials likely to come in contact with victims or potential victims. This has been the case for EUCAP Sahel Niger, EUCAP Sahel Mali and EUBAM Libya missions. These actions contribute to raise awareness for an issue often ignored.
To pay tribute to the victims and to remind the need of eradication of the crime, the EU has set the 18 October as the EU Anti-Trafficking Day. Multiple events are organised every year throughout the EU by national authorities, civil society and a wide range of actors.
On the occasion of 13th EU Anti-Trafficking Day in 2019, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos stated: “Trafficking in human beings has no place in European societies. Despite efforts by Member States as well as Europol involvement, the level of investigations, prosecutions and convictions in Europe remains too low for a crime that brings astronomical profits for the perpetrators. For as long as we allow this culture of impunity to reign, we fail each and every victim we are here to help. We must step up our efforts to enhance prevention, investigation and prosecution while ensuring better protection of trafficking victims.”
This day serves as a reminder for all the victims of trafficking in human beings, as well as the need to assume a joint and coordinated approach to break the chains of modern slavery.
*Name has been changed to protect survivor’s privacy