Trends in human trafficking – Special Issue no. 1, June 2019 – EEPA News Highlights

The EEPA team is pleased to present you with the first issue of the newsletter on Trends in Human Trafficking between the Horn of Africa and Europe. It provides a monthly overview of current research publications, reports as well as selected news articles, with specific focus on human trafficking. The newsletter will be distributed on a monthly basis to our News Highlights network. Please feel free to forward this information to others or invite them to subscribe via this link. If you have information to contribute, do not hesitate to contact us.

Research & Reports:

New book publication shows complexity of human trafficking networks and their link to political powers
In the book ‘Human trafficking, migration business and modern slavery’, author Jan-Philipp Scholz explores human trafficking networks between Africa and Europe which have grown over the past few years and which are linked to corrupt elites and political systems. He based his book on many testimonies of migrants and refugees who have gone through torture and abuse for ransom by traffickers in the desert or detention centres in Libya. “Traffickers have taken over many regions and it’s become much harder to differentiate between smugglers who merely offer a service in return for money and traffickers who will deliberately deceive the migrants” said Scholz in his interview for InfoMigrants. He also stressed that Europe plays a role in the migration business in Africa as several European countries and companies cooperate with “corrupt elites in Africa”.  According to Scholz, increasing investment in border protection mechanisms that aim to prevent people from coming to Europe is worrying and it signifies the ‘hypocritical approach’ of European countries.

Report shows the trends in human trafficking in Libya
Author Mark Micallef wrote a report for the Global Initiative Against Transnational and Organised Crime. In the report, Micallef follows up on earlier research which described the smuggling industry of Libya as a ‘conveyor belt’. In this report, the author explains how this conveyor belt broke down, as various Libyan militia have switched to anti-smuggling and security related activities to promote themselves as political players. This started in the summer of 2017, states Micallef, when a notorious militia smuggler started cooperating with the Government of National Accord (GNA) to fight smuggling. However, the decrease in smuggling has been accompanied by an increase in trafficking, notably an increase in human trafficking for ransom with severe torture practices – smugglers seem to shift into trafficking as the former becomes more difficult, notes the author.

Article on human trafficking finances is published
An academic publication in Human Trafficking Finances came out which depicts human trafficking of migrants and refugees arriving in Italy from Africa. The authors, Georgios et al., analysed financial mechanisms which are used in human trafficking giving a particular focus on sexual and labour exploitation. The authors note it is mainly foreign crime groups that are involved in this business. The findings of this chapter show the main financial mechanisms used by trafficking groups, such as “the need of some start-up capital to run the business, the use of cash for most transactions, the low costs and high revenues of trafficking operations, as well as informal banking systems and money transfers for money laundering.”

Researchers investigate how human trafficking and smuggling is covered by the media
ENACT, a project aiming to counter transnational organized crime in Africa, has published a research paper analysing how the issues of human trafficking and smuggling from Libya are portrayed in media articles. The authors observed that media reports are focused on the most striking statistics and biggest events and not so much on the more investigative stories depicting the experience of refugees, as journalists are interested in producing clear and simple stories. This contributes to the reduction and limitation of information accessible to the general public. The report further revealed that the news coverage has been shaped by the political climate and political agendas in Europe, as well as by press houses which often are driven by the needs and demands of their customers. The authors recommend better training for journalists and humanitarian workers on legal parameters in order to use correct terminology such as the terms ‘trafficking’ and ‘smuggling’ as they have often been used interchangeably.

Sexual abuse of men and boys in the context of trafficking networks
The Women’s Refugee Commission conducted a study on sexual violence and exploitation of male migrants and refugees on central Mediterranean migration route. The research study reports the practices relating to human trafficking in transit countries, Libya, as well as in Italy. In Libya, men are trafficked primarily for labour and not for sexual purpose, however, the sexual violence “may be perpetrated within the context of labour trafficking”, says the report. Sexual exploitation through trafficking networks and organized crime has also been documented in Italy, but this topic needs further investigation, according to the study.

Media articles

Human trafficking is discussed during the session of Pan-African Parliament
On May 13 2019, Pan African Parliament held a session dedicated to the Theme of the Year 2019: “The Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa”. Prof. Dr. Mirjam van Reisen introduced the topic of human trafficking,  particularly trafficking to and in Libya, affecting thousands of refugees and migrants from many African countries. In her presentation she pointed out that trafficking has become a large business which is estimated to be worth US$ 2-3 billion annually. “People are being sold for ransom from one place to another. Prices in Libya have now risen to US$ 20.000 and even when such a ransom is paid people are still sold on and on and on”, said Prof. van Reisen.

Families raise money on Facebook to pay ransom to traffickers
Time magazine describes how new technologies play a major role in the current practise connected to human trafficking. Traffickers extort the families of refugees and ask for ransom money through use of phones. If the money is not paid, traffickers take pictures showing refugees being tortured and they ask either refugees themselves or their families to post the picture on Facebook in order to raise money, reports Time. Increasing engagement of platforms such as Facebook or Whatsapp for collecting ransom money may escalate the financial demands of traffickers in the future, says Mark Micallef, a senior researcher at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.  Nowadays, refugees are obliged to pay thousands of US$ to the trafficking networks as a price for their life.

Ethiopia signs a Memorandum of Understanding to protect victims of trafficking
Ethiopia recently adopted the Memorandum of Understanding for the Referral of Victims of Human Trafficking and Vulnerable Migrants in Amhara Regional State, which was signed by both governmental and non-governmental agencies in order to enhance the protection of victims of human trafficking. This is particularly important for Amhara region which is one of the main transit areas for migrants and where consequently many groups of traffickers have been developed and become well established.