Addressing Human Trafficking: What’s Working And What’s Not

Following British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent announcement that the British government struck a 120-million-pound deal with the government of Rwanda to send asylum seekers there from the United Kingdom, discussions of how to effectively tackle the issue of human trafficking have sprung up around the world. Migrants are especially vulnerable to human trafficking, as they often resort to hiring smugglers to help them get into certain countries, but these smugglers often take advantage of their vulnerability by forcing them into labor or other acts. This has not only been exemplified for asylum seekers heading to the U.K. but is a universal problem; 51 migrants were found dead in a tractor-trailer in San Antonio, Texas after crossing the U.S./Mexico border in the back of the trailer without air conditioning or water. While smuggling is a voluntary act, a smuggling case can easily become human trafficking once the victims are involuntarily exploited.

Since many migrants have been victims of human trafficking, this issue remains prevalent and must be addressed by the international community in an effective way. Simply sending migrants to a country which they have no connection to has proven to be unsuccessful in reducing the power human traffickers have over migrants; Israel introduced a similar measure in 2014 which resulted in “all rerouted asylum-seekers using the same human trafficking networks and either returning to Europe or getting enslaved in Libya,” according to Karen Doyle, national organizer for Movement for Justice, an immigrant rights organization. Most countries that historically receive large amounts of migrants have failed to find a successful solution to effectively tackle human trafficking, and it remains a worldwide issue.

A comprehensive solution to stop human trafficking has yet to be realized, as the majority of countries experiencing high rates of human trafficking have not inducted widespread measures to combat the issue. Discussions of human trafficking are often combined with discussions of immigration, which remains a politically contested issue in most countries, and so it has been difficult for unilaterally accepted anti-human trafficking bills to be passed. One solution that has been proposed in the United Kingdom and Israel is to send migrants to other countries in hopes of limiting their reliance on human traffickers and to also keep them from wanting to travel to these countries in the first place.

This controversial tactic was unsuccessful in Israel in both limiting the number of migrants coming to the country and their reliance on human traffickers, and its effectiveness is yet to be known in the case of the United Kingdom, which enacted this policy very recently. Another tactic that has been implemented in the United States to reduce the number of migrants entering the country illegally has been deportation and harsher sentences for illegal immigrants, but these measures have also not limited the number of migrants trying to enter the country in general and with the help of human traffickers.

Recently in San Antonio, Texas and in a number of instances throughout the years, hundreds of migrants still enter the country with the help of “coyotes” who take advantage of their vulnerability and place them in life-threatening situations. Effective anti-human trafficking policies are difficult to develop not only because of the controversy of combining the issue with immigration issues but also because of the challenge of prosecuting international traffickers and the underground nature of trafficking that makes it difficult to recognize. Still, effective anti-human trafficking policies are not impossible to employ but require countries to work together to create safe routes for migrants to curtail their reliance on human traffickers, create greater awareness about signs of human trafficking, and employ more welcoming and inclusive asylum policies within their country.

As stated earlier, the anti-human trafficking measures that have previously been employed in many countries including deportation and sending asylum seekers to different countries has done little to limit their reliance on human traffickers or attempts to enter countries. The first step that must be taken in order to effectively stop the trafficking of migrants is to separate the issue from discussions of immigration policies. Immigration remains to be one of the most highly politicized and contested issues in most countries, but human trafficking is almost universally seen as an important issue that needs to be addressed. Framing the issue of human trafficking of migrants as a human rights issue and not an immigration one is important as it will allow for more serious and universally accepted conversations about how to resolve the issue to be discussed in many countries.

The extremely dangerous and life-threatening conditions migrants face while being smuggled into countries by human traffickers are such obvious infringements on human rights that the international community needs to view this issue as serious as it is. Another integral step the international community must take in order to effectively address human trafficking is to create safe and inclusive policies for migrants to receive asylum. Harsh and discriminatory asylum policies have proven to be unsuccessful in stopping migrants from trying to enter countries illegally, as demonstrated in cases such as the United States and Israel. Therefore, if countries create safe pathways for migrants to receive asylum, human traffickers will no longer be seen as necessary in the migration process for migrants.

Another important aspect of creating safe policies for migrants includes investment by powerful countries, NGOs, and the UN into countries that many migrants are fleeing from in order to keep them from needing to find refuge in another country in the first place. This has been successful in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had experienced high rates of human trafficking due to migration and passed legislation that created a Strike Force for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, which has successfully identified and prosecuted many cases of human trafficking in the country. An important step in countering the human trafficking of migrants is to employ measures to keep families together in the migration process.

The migration process, especially when human trafficking is involved, is not only dangerous but is also psychologically damaging, as many families are split apart in the process. Therefore, it is integral that resettlement programs, family reunification policies, and humanitarian visas are distributed to migrants who have experienced the trauma of human trafficking so that they are less likely to be put in similar situations again and can correctly recognize and identify their experiences. Overall, the human trafficking of migrants is a grave human rights issue that deserves the utmost attention from the international community, and new measures such as creating safe pathways for migration and reframing the issue should be considered as the most effective ways to tackle the issue.


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