Written By: SOS International
In the last decade, you’ve probably heard hundreds of stories about an influx of displaced people coming from a country overseas, caravans of refugees, or mass groups of asylum seekers swarming a country’s border. There are currently 110 Million displaced people around the world due to war, civil unrest, or persecution. That’s twice the number of displaced people from just 10 years ago. This is an issue that is impacting nations around the world, but have you considered the fact that this increase in displaced people correlates with the current human trafficking crisis? Displaced people face many dangers, and human traffickers are one of them, as they try to take advantage of vulnerable people lacking basic needs.
It is helpful first to make distinctions between types of displaced people, which include refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, and Internally displaced people.
Refugee: A person who has been forced to flee their home country due to war or violence caused by persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, or social group. They cross international borders and are granted legal rights by their host country after some point in time. There are currently 35.3 million refugees in the world.
Internally displaced people (IDP): A person who has been forced to flee their homes for the same reason as a refugee, only that they do not cross into another country. They are displaced within their own country and are legally protected by their government (though, in some cases, the government is the reason for their displacement). There are currently 62.5 million IDPs in the world.
Asylum Seekers: A person who has fled their country due to persecution or human rights violations but lacks the legal definition of a refugee. Asylum seekers typically have no protections or rights until they are recognized as a refugee and could even risk being sent back to their home country. There are currently 5.4 million asylum seekers in the world.
Migrants: Migrants are often used as an umbrella term. They are people who have voluntarily moved to another country and do not fall into the category of a refugee, IDP, or asylum seeker. They generally move for work, education, or for family reunification. However, “migrant” is often used to describe anyone who has moved from their home country to another for any reason.
Ultimately, there are a lot of challenges that displaced people face, starting from the moment they have to flee. Displaced people must leave everything they know behind nearly instantly and then journey to find safety in an unfamiliar place. Most displaced people leave with nothing more than what they can carry on their backs. This means no secure way of obtaining food and water, with little clothing or shelter. Displaced people face a lot of uncertainty, and their lack of secure basic needs can lead to desperation, which traffickers will try to leverage for their gain.
Traffickers leverage Desperation
Desperate, displaced people may feel they have no better option and take the risky offers of passage across borders, or job offers that seem too good to pass up. The possibility that they may be exploited may not even cross their minds until it is too late. In many cases of accepting safe passage, traffickers can try to trick their victims into debt bondage by increasing the price of their services to an unfair amount and threatening their victims using their legal status against them. In other cases, the compensation demanded from traffickers after safe passage can turn into a demand for sexual services or the ransom of a family member.
Traffickers leverage legal status
Many displaced people may be unable to gain refugee status to pursue work and housing for themselves or their families. This is particularly important because, with no legal way to work, options are slim. This presents an opportunity for traffickers to slip in and offer jobs to displaced people who do not have the status to do legal work. In these situations, traffickers can take advantage of displaced people in many ways, using their legal status to continue exploiting them for labor or sexual services.
Even with legal protections, refugees are still vulnerable to the hands of traffickers. Refugees are often seen as second-class citizens, which can result in ostracization from communities that could help secure them. In addition, language barriers can present challenges to understanding the legal rights that traffickers can use to threaten their victims. Traffickers will use any form of deception they can to take advantage of vulnerable people.
Traffickers leverage refugee camp conditions.
Although 78% of refugees live outside of refugee camps, there are still dangers for those who live inside of them. Many refugee camps are underprepared and face challenges that make life difficult for those within them. Things such as overcrowding, lack of resources like clean water and food, hygiene and sanitation issues, and limited healthcare are common problems faced by refugees in these camps. These issues, combined with the existing stress and trauma faced by refugees, can lead to an environment that exacerbates the desperation of refugees. There often is no real protection in these camps, meaning that traffickers can easily leverage their desperation to take advantage of refugees. These dangers can also be present in other areas where displaced people may live. Housing solutions and communities often experience conditions where disease, violence, and other insecurities are similar to those in a refugee camp.
Traffickers leverage the vulnerability of children
Being displaced is dangerous for anyone – but it’s perilous for children. Children compose 40% of displaced people worldwide. Many of these children are unaccompanied, trying to find safety without their parents or legal guardians. Children are sometimes sent alone to reunite with relatives who have found safety in another country. Others have deliberately left their families behind, fleeing domestic abuse, poverty, criminal gangs, or corruption. Some parents choose to send their children to travel alone, hoping they may have a better chance of obtaining asylum. This is a prime opportunity for traffickers. Child trafficking is the fastest-growing crime in the world today, and displaced children are the ones being exploited for gain.
How can you show care for displaced people?
At SOS, one of our values is to see, and with all of the controversy that surrounds refugees and other displaced people, it’s important to focus on the reality they experience. To develop care for at-risk people, you first have to be willing to see them and their needs. There are stories all the time that highlight the experiences of displaced people. Be willing to hear their stories and let them develop an awareness and care inside of you.
It’s also important to see displaced people who may be in our own communities. One of the most powerful things you can do if you have displaced people in your community is to include. What would it look like for you and your family to get to know a refugee family or share a meal with them? It helps to break down barriers for them to be included in the community. If you can help build a community that sees at-risk people, you not only help secure their lives today but also secure the futures of their children.
Another way you can make a difference is by partnering with SOS this year-end. Our goal is to carry out trafficking prevention in 40 communities, and we need to raise $250,000 to mobilize these outreach efforts. Some of these communities have refugee families who need food and water to secure them from traffickers. If you’d like to make a year-end gift, please visit the link here!
Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrants – Amnesty International
Refugee vs. IDP vs. migrant… what’s the difference? | Concern Worldwide
2022 UNODC TIP Report