Title: (1) On the cusp of becoming a global humanitarian crisis: Human Trafficking Tarig Misbah Yousif
Author: Tarig Misbah Yousif
Date: 12-13-2014, 04:37 PM
Over the last few years, the issue of human trafficking has gained prominence, not only in the media, but in international fora such as the UN. Indeed trafficking in persons or 'modern day slavery' seems to have constituted an ethical dilemma to humanity. Not only is trade in people a debasement of our shared humanity, it is a degrading disgrace and utter shame on every human being. Thousands of victims fall in the hands of traffickers every year and no continent is immune from the menace. Trade in person, which is a blatant violation of human rights, is probably the second most burgeoning and lucrative criminal activity (after drug dealing). This is the first in a series of three articles on trade in people. The article tries to put the issue of trafficking in persons into perspective by spelling out the main causes of the problem.
Under the 2003 UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC), The Trafficking Protocol defines human trafficking as:
"The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs" (Article 3, 1, the 2000 UN Trafficking Protocol ).
This definition has been adopted by some 164 countries which became party to the Protocol. Around eighty per cent of these countries now have laws criminalizing human trafficking. Human trafficking and people smuggling are often used interchangeably. Nevertheless, there is a difference between the two terms. On the one hand, smuggling of people (on the face of it) looks consensual as the smuggled person willingly pays the smuggler to clandestinely bring him/her in another country across an international frontier. Upon arrival in the country of destination, there will be no restrictions on the movement of the smuggled person who can freely find his/her way. Without a shadow of a doubt, smuggling of people is illegal and the element of exploitation is visibly manifest. Not a single week passes by without Aljazeera TV Channel's bringing news about recovery of bodies of smuggled people trying to make it to Europe. Death by drowning in the Mediterranean is the daily lot for hundreds of people who try to make it to the shores of Europe in a highly perilous journey on board unsafe and often primitive boats. Poverty, which is a form of violence, compels many destitute people to turn to greedy smugglers in a bid to find a better place in this unequal world.
On the other hand, human trafficking has elements of coercion, abuse and exploitation. Too often, victims of human trafficking are not allowed to leave upon arrival, and they may be unaware about their final destinations. On many occasions lured and beguiled victims of human trafficking ended up with their organs being removed without their knowledge. In some cases victims were held hostages, pending the payment of enormous ransoms by the relatives of the victims of human trafficking.
What are the major causes of the thriving industry of 'trafficking in persons'?
On the part of traffickers (who do not feel a pang of conscience), greed, and the lucrative nature of the criminal activity are the principal reasons which make traffickers prey on their victims.
On the part of trafficked people, abject poverty is one of the major causes of trafficking in persons. Joblessness, haplessness and hopelessness force large numbers of working-age people into the hands traffickers. However, deep down are the underlying causes such as unequal distribution of wealth and lack of development which impact negatively on people's education and awareness and hence make them a soft target for those who trade in people. The point is that poverty and deprivation cannot be taken in isolation from the international economic order which is biased against the poor, particularly the protectionism in western markets and the unfair trade which impoverishes people living in the southern Hemisphere.
Corruption among members of the police force, coastal guards and other security organs has also compounded the problem. This is particularly evident in countries of origin and transit countries where police and coastal guards live in miserable conditions due to their low wages. In addition, other factors such us armed conflicts, political strife, civil wars, generalised violence, the sliding of states into anarchy and the ensued human displacement have produced the perfect environment for the spread of the crime of trafficking in persons. A case in point is Libya which has already slid into anarchy. Apparently the arsenal of weapons left by the former dictator Gaddafi is fuelling unstoppable fighting along ethnic lines in the oil-rich country. Some reports indicated that the number of smuggling and trafficking of people across the Mediterranean has significantly increased since the toppling of Gaddafi’s regime back in 2011. Available statistics indicate that large numbers of young people die while trying to reach Italy. According to the International Organization for Migration around 2,900 people from Africa and the Middle East (notably Syrian refugees) lost their lives in 2014. In order to stop this tragedy, there is a sore need for concerted efforts and drastic measures. This is what the next article is about.
Tarig M. Yousif (PhD) is a freelance researcher in the field of forced migration and human displacement. He worked for many years as an aid worker in refugee camps in Sudan.