Refugees and migrants are among the most vulnerable people on the planet. They are scapegoated by populist politicians, denied international protection, risk death and injury as they cross borders, and face exploitation and abuse wherever they go. Whatever your thoughts on the European migrant and refugee crisis, preventing human rights abuses and loss of life should be a priority.

In 2017, the charity Oxfam reported that migrants and refugees in Libya faced a “living hell”, including the daily threat of kidnapping, torture, rape, and slavery. At least 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees are thought to have gone missing after reaching Europe, many of them believed to have fallen victim to human trafficking and sexual exploitation. How can we prevent this from happening?

People smuggling and human trafficking will be one of the many security issues discussed on Debating Security Plus (DS+). Our sister think-tank, Friends of Europe, has launched a global online brainstorm designed to find solutions to today’s security challenges. From 19 June, 09:00 CEST to 20 June 20:00 CEST, the international security community will debate challenges and policy solutions. The discussions will be moderated by leading international think-tanks and organisations that will steer discussions towards concrete recommendations.

You can register to join the debate here.

What do our readers think? Well, there seems to be a great deal of confusion about the difference between “people smuggling” and “human trafficking”. Many of the comments we’ve had use the terms interchangeably, implying that all of the migrants and refugees coming into Europe have been trafficked. Obviously, this is not true. Yet, is the confusion really surprising when the picture on the ground is so complex?

For example, we had a comment sent in from Saul, who believes that if someone is an unaccompanied child and they’re smuggled into Europe, then this should be considered human trafficking. Is he right? And, if not, what’s the difference between people smuggling and human trafficking?

To get a response, we spoke to Vincent Cochetel, Special Envoy of the UNHCR for the Central Mediterranean. What would he say?

For us, trafficking implies a notion of coercion or violence or exploitation of a vulnerable individual. So there is a difference between smuggling and trafficking. But in a place like Libya, you always have a degree of coercion being used, so the difference between the two is blurred in the context of Libya.

To get another perspective, we put the same question to Mark Lagon, former US Ambassador-at-Large to Combat Trafficking in Persons, and currently Centennial Fellow and Distinguished Senior Scholar at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, and Chief Policy Officer of the Friends of the Global Fights Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. What would he say?

Great question, and it’s one of the reasons why some who seek to fight human trafficking use the word ‘slavery’ to clarify that the key thing is the exploitation. The key thing is not necessarily movement, because there are some who never cross borders, like a Dalit in a brick kiln in India or a child in prostitution that never crosses the border, who are trafficking victims.

Trafficking has to do with the exploitation and the use of force, fraud and coercion. These are expressions that apply in both UN treaties and domestic law. People smuggling is moving people across borders illicitly, but it is in fact the exploitation that matters. If someone is an undocumented migrant, they can be a human trafficking victim if they are subject to force, fraud or coercion.

Next up, we had a comment sent in from Marianne, who argues that today there is no legal way for refugees to enter Europe, forcing many to instead take illegal routes into the EU. This leaves them much more vulnerable to abuse from human traffickers. Would creating safe and regular paths to asylum help crack down on this kind of exploitation?

Here’s Vincent Cochetel‘s response:

Yes, you should have some legal pathways for migration or some possibility of resettlement for refugees, so they don’t use the service of traffickers or smugglers to go to Europe. We definitely need that. But at the same time, we definitely need to fight trafficking. It’s not you do one after the other; you do the two at the same time.

And what would Mark Lagon say?

I think it is always better for there to be clear and safe pathways for documented migration. There will be refugees; there will be undocumented migrants. We just need to be attentive to when people are actually refugees from political turmoil and when people have been subject to force, fraud and coercion, and it is not their fault that they have been involved in undocumented migration and vulnerability to trafficking.

Finally, we had a comment from Stevo, who told us that his country, Australia, put in place a policy where the coast guards simply turn back smugglers’ boats. He argues that because of this policy the boats stopped coming. Obviously, the Italian government is now following a similar policy. Should other European countries adopt the same approach? Would it help cut down on the number of people making the crossing (and, therefore, the number of people vulnerable to trafficking)?

What Australia does is in contravention with international refugee law. I think European states should abide by these standards. But it’s not just a response for Europe, it’s a response also for the countries in North Africa. So you need proper sharing responsibility arrangements; you don’t change geography. You cannot stop migration, you have to manage it.

How would Mark Lagon respond to the same comment? Would turning back the boats at the border be a solution?

Respectfully, I don’t think that is the sole solution or the best solution. When I was the US ambassador to combat trafficking of persons, I used to caution people in other countries that the solution to human trafficking was not higher walls and tougher border security; it’s attentiveness to the nature of the migrants.

So, one, when you discover irregular migration or undocumented migration on the soil of your country, have an eye – law enforcement and immigration officials – play a part for whether someone is being subject to gross exploitation, force, fraud or coercion. And, you do have to have an eye for those who are, in fact, refugees.

There is a moral, legal and treaty obligation of countries to look out for those who are refugees. There are those who are fleeing from extremists and from brutal dictatorship – for instance fleeing from the Middle East to North Africa. We in the United States, or those in Europe, need to be attentive to the real cases of refugees.

How can we stop the human trafficking and abuse of refugees? How can we tell the difference between “trafficking” and “people smuggling”? And what’s the best policy response? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: (c) BigStockPhoto – Anjo Kan; PORTRAIT CREDITS: Cochetel – cc / Flickr – UN Geneva, Lagon – Public Domain – U.S. Dept. of State 

56 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    stop mess up with the others just for oil as it’s happening in the middle east and Africa… and help those countries develop

    • avatar

      Help them to develop into what exactly, nuclear armed fundamentalist Nations ruled by religious dogma ? Good luck with that comrade.

    • avatar

      Lino I agree. So many countries are being abused and taken over for oil. They don’t develop but get rich and powerful fast, and that causes problems.

    • avatar

      Ivan, what is wrong with a nation with nuclear power? The US has it. China has it. Russia has it. Why should we trust those countries, and not a new nation that made money from their own land? Wonder how those countries got money? A lot of it came from out of their country. This just shows how racist and small minded so many can be. But why assume that a country should have the right to use it’s own resources and develop, when there is a small chance they may become too powerful and controlling. How about we just let other countries frag and suck up those resources and leave when done, when they don’t have to suffer the consequence of what they have done..

    • avatar

      Are you serious!?!? How would you feel if I come by your house, blow it up and then offer you a safe way to move thousands of miles away to a detention center, far away from your homeland and everything you know and love?! Wouldn’t you want to have me persecuted for what I’ve done? Being taken to court and ordered to pay for your house?! With all due respect your opinion shows everything that is wrong with Europe today.

    • avatar

      Who has been bombing African countries ???

    • avatar

      Ivan NATO, Libya

    • avatar

      UK, France, USA shall i go on?

    • avatar

      those are terrorists not immagrants

  2. avatar

    Well, the US together with its “partners” bombed people’s countries back to the stone age under the pretext they need “Democracy”. With this the US and the West as a whole showed they are no better than Nazis . Only thing that can be done now is all those countries who took part in the destruction to dig deep in their pockets to rebuild the “liberated” ones. Which will never happen. We all know why Middle East was destroyed, why Iran is in the crosshairs….final target is for RF to fall. Which will never happen.

    • avatar

      Are you really supporting the practices of dictators that throw gays off roofs, persecute Christians & Jews, treat women as second class citizens and bomb mothers and children for being the wrong sect ?

      Your humanitarian dogma is twisted comrade.

    • avatar

      Weil der Iran ein Terroristischer Staat ist

  3. avatar

    the immigrants know that if they got rescued they will be transferred to Europe. At least this was happening in the Aegean Sea in 2015. The smugglers advised the immigrants to jump on the sea when they see Greek ships in order to be rescued and transferred to a Greek island.
    I suppose the best way to stop them is BEFORE they sail from the African shorts or Turkey. If they get in a boat they will be rescued in a way or another and transferred to Europe. Also, there is no other way that Europe to invest in countries of origin in order to find jobs there and finally to put pressure on transit countries which use the immigrant flows to blackmail Europe demanding economic and political benefits.

  4. avatar

    Everytime you rescue them bring them back to the country where they came from, they will run out of money paying the human traffickers, right now you are rewarding them to come.

    • avatar
      Michele Caradonna

      They will however find a way to come (or they will be taken by force), moreover, sending them back is costly, emotional and cause big political crisis. I live in Italy and our minister is being called fascist and sued for ordering police to bring them back in their homeland

  5. avatar

    Stop giving them the incentive to risk their lives with the human trafficking organised crime in the hope of living in the land of milk and honey.

  6. avatar

    Stop calling human beings immigrant and illegal. Stop supporting wars and private armies there for global corporations to steal resources.

  7. avatar

    Set up detention centres in Africa. Process Everyone there, deport those that get turned down. Increase standards for asylum.

    • avatar

      Why would African Nations want them ?

    • avatar

      They are centres of the destination, and we pay plenty of money

    • avatar

      It’s been done before

  8. avatar

    STOP bombing their homes so you can steal their natural resources and antiquities, and STOP signing Conventions, Treaties and Declarations to uproot them and force them onto other countries with cultures totally different from their own. Your Coudenhove-Kalergis, ONE WORLD is failing and the NWO is a scam to steal the wealth of the planet… nothing more.

    • avatar

      Nice conspiracy theory lol

  9. avatar
    EU Reform- Proactive

    Considered a “great question” by some, a helpless whimper by others! There is tragedy and chaos on all fronts! The EU has been exposed a paper tiger once again!

    These “WE” narratives- besides becoming “nerve wrecking”- suggest that “we” all are in total agreement being clueless; confused in blissful E-unison, a bunch of ill willed- praying in the halls of The Berlaymont- that a redeemer comes up with a pc acceptable solution. Sorry, not so!

    While a human hurricane drives all sorts of desperadoes towards the European shores, a panic driven last minute brainstorming in Brussels’ law factory has gripped EU’s Friends, Bureau & Technocrats! Disorder galore!

    Why can the fabric of the “bastion of strict regulatory rules” so easily be breached by mainly 3rd world barefoot fortune seekers? The almighty EC owes everyone an answer! Please don’t ask such immature questions!

    Maybe remove all signs unilaterally erected by one called Merkel- saying “all welcome”. Members must demand an inquiry into some alleged breaches against existing EU treaty regulations- as per Article 7. Never mind if such member is a powerful Germany or Merkel! “All are equal”- not so?

    The political turmoil in Germany might cost Merkel her job- and (should) teach others a lesson in communal decision making! Isn’t that a cornerstone of the EU?

    If not- undo the monster & stick to economics only!

  10. avatar

    Take to court all suspects. Any court decision poiting to govermental responsability stop trading with the respective goverment and only fund the necessary means to stop the fellany

  11. avatar
    catherine benning

    How can we stop the human trafficking and abuse of refugees?

    This question is again odd in the leaning it has toward the idea that criminality into our European lifestyle and culture is acceptable. What this question should be emphasising is, how can human trafficking be taken seriously by those in our own society who use it as a business, as well as a political method, to destroy the culture of those who are funding them?

    What needs to be looked at and exposed is the use, by political machinery world wide, to impose on the host nation guilt created by others illegal actions. Where did this notion manifest?

    Answer this, why should the European or Western tax payer be held responsible to foot the bill of people willing to put the lives of themselves and those of children, not often their own, at risk on the premise the weak minded will take up the parenting of their collective being? Especially when it is blatantly obvious it is a scam to abuse a civilisation they despise and have no connection to in any way? When in fact, the moves they make are deliberately to destroy the society they intend to impose upon. They have no sense of blending in and adapting to our way of life. Which, as a result, creates resentment in their psyche toward all we stand for, leading to the direction of mass destruction of us and the environment we have, for being the way it is.

    What the host culture has to seriously consider and with great forethought, is, are they willing to allow the unproductive of the world, who are being used by political chicanery, to remove a lifestyle and structural order from them with a callousness that will leave them as destitute as those who come. Because that is what is expected of you and what is taking place as I write.

    Young people are no longer able to look forward to a standard of living they once had every reason to believe would be theirs. Employment, a home, education for their children, health care and welfare in the time of need. Invasion has removed that expectation. And politicians have manipulated it and encouraged it, whilst billing us in order to impose it on us.

    With each boat and face that arrives on our shores, carrying those who have no concept of Western society and its core values, the young in particular, are allowing the loss of the lifestyle their parents raised them to appreciate and have for themselves. It is now no longer their obvious future. Are they willing to embrace this sacrifice contentedly?

    If they feel it is ‘selfish’ to turn them away, then ask this, how aggressive and uncaring of their sacrifice is it of those entering illegally to steal that future from them? Who then take it and reduce it to the levels of violence and horror we are witnessing now.

    Just look at the filth on our streets. The corrosion of our infrastructure, the reduction in our places of education, the homelessness imposed on our own poverty stricken. And most important of all, the spurning of our own culture and society in favour of the intolerable being brought in and imposed on us by bent politicians.

    Make no mistake, we are at war. This is a war that is being fought psychologically and it is being raised by attacking our belief in Christian goodness, tolerance and acceptance of goodwill toward men. A system not embraced, applauded or wanted by the invaders, who actively reject it.

    What is being asked of you is for your consent to approve of, accept and condone criminality as a way of life. Look at today and with grave seriousness at what is taking place in our cities and towns, our social cohesion and the lifestyle you love and want to continue in perpetuity. Are you ready to sacrifice that?

  12. avatar

    se impedirem que empresas contratem mão d’obra estrangeira enquanto houver desempregados nacionais em cada país.
    If they prevent companies from hiring foreign labour while there are national unemployed in each country.

  13. avatar

    We should have thought of that before bringing “peace and order” to Libya

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      @ Marquitos

      The ‘we’ you cite is incorrect. Which people in Europe voted for or agreed to the Libyan conflict? Certainly not in the UK. And the blame for that lies strictly at the door of politicians who did not divulge their intention prior to asking for election. The ‘we’ were never consulted or even addressed on the matter.

      To take that one step further, those culpable should be the ones who personally pay, by first relieving them of their income, akin to being fined. And then incarcerated for war crimes that went against the will of their people. Which further brings us to our democracy being expanded into Swiss style direct democracy. Had their been a vote on it, a Swiss style referendum, no attack would have been made on Iraq, Libya or Syria.

      However, the millions entering Europe annually, a million a year to the UK alone. Much of it hidden by pretending those settling are equal to those leaving. Figures are massaged to suit the political liars who do not want to be held responsible for their injustice to the community they pretend to be paternal toward. Us.

  14. avatar

    Return ALL immigrants to their country of origin and close the borders .That includes towing any boats back to where they came from not ‘rescuing’ them and then landing them in Europe . Refugee camps can be set up in or near countries and people in trouble and need and then and only then give refugee status .

  15. avatar

    Stop calling illegal immigrants refugees !!!! Who enters a country illegally must be send back and not given benefits or hotels to stay . But the thing is does the establishment really want this crisis to stop or is it the other way round

    • avatar

      Think about how lucky you are, then think again „illegal ?“; besides, explain: „establishment?“

  16. avatar

    Miért fegyverre költik a sok pénzt a szegény országok gazdasága miatt?Ha egy hónapig nem költenének háborús célokra a Földön ,akkor abból a temérdek sok lovéból a szegénységet,éhezést és az egészségügyet is meg lehetne oldani.De mivel az Ördögöt szolgáljátok,ezért semmit se fogtok megoldani.ilyen egyszerű a képlet.Majd az Alkotó megoldja ezt és minden problémát egyszer s mindenkorra.

    Why spend a lot of money on a weapon for the economy of the poor countries? If you were not spending on war every month, you could get rid of poverty, hunger, and health from a huge number. But since you serve the devil you will not do anything to solve it. as simple as the formula. Then the Creator solves this and all problems once and for all.

  17. avatar

    You can’t until the EU decide that we have 150million workers in Europe…enough to enslave and change Europe forever. As long as the elite have the money filling their greedy pockets they don’t care. Look up the Barcelona agreement…you will get your answers. Pity we Europeans weren’t asked though.

  18. avatar

    I am sorry for them Their countries are being destroyed, but now I regret the more settled European countries and the millions of Europeans in them.Unfortunately with the migrants, we set fire to Europe.Now the whole world is in chaos, largely with the help of these so-called fleeing from wars – They do not seek peaceful life.They destroy peace.

  19. avatar
    Anne Marjatta Heliste

    If our multinational companies exploit all the riches of Africa, destroying there economy and nature since 300 years it is obvious that they have to escape and as they are not given any legal possibilty to move they have to come illegally. In addition we sell them weapons incouraging the conflicts. Stop exploiting and give possibilities to come legally the same possibilities we have.

  20. avatar

    With Libya as their departure…the answer is very simple: never!

  21. avatar

    Make good living conditions where they try to escape from.
    Thought that’s obvious.

  22. avatar
    Simone mamo

    Ever since the Sixties Europe and the USA have given Billions in Aid to African countries, which see to have made no difference whatsoever. The money many migrants send home, directly to their families is making a big difference and allowing the populations to develop and prosper faster. So personally, rather then asylum I would give legal work permits for a set period, to be renewed as needed to these people and less aid to the countries. Also it would be great if countries that sell arm would stop being so hypocritical and give these people chance to develop their countries without all the external pressure and power play.

  23. avatar

    No one can because it is well organised with many others blessing.

  24. avatar
    Paul Carr

    Human migration has been around since the dawn of time. If the home environment is politically stable and economically viable then the reason for migration almost disappears. Europe and the western economies show place more emphasis on creating stability and funding development to reduce the need for migration. Overseas aid and development funding has been substantially reduced in the last two decades thereby exacerbating the migration issue. These human beings are only ” getting on their bike” in the same people in the UK were advised when we had regional economic depression.

    • avatar

      Closing ports has already brought some results, i think is a good solution (FOR NOW) waiting for the EU to find an agreement that can solve the issue. Italy has always taken all the migrants and was left alone, until now looks something good. :)

  25. avatar

    We can stop the traffic of human beings by trying to create a large financing plan for those countries where there are economic problems.
    Work for peace so that no one escapes from the war or create humanitarian corridors, that means, people who are able to safely cross each state.
    Trafficking is the seizure of people using illicit means. With traffic Victims are recruited directly by traffickers through violence or deception.
    Every European nation has to be responsible for the immigration. The immigration must be an argument of interest for the entire Europe

  26. avatar
    Sofia Vinci

    For some years now there has been a widespread mobility of population from the countries of the South of the world towards the countries of the North. It’s becoming that needs immediate solutions. These populations leave their country, their families, offer putting their lives in risk, looking for a better life. They are forced to flee because in their countries they suffer from hunger, civil war, dictatorship, exploitation and inequality. Nowadays we hear the news which say that to solve this phenomenon it’s enough to close the ports. But us, who don’t agree, we must raise our voice “forcing” the leaders of the world to try to help these people by sending not only economic aid, but we must stop closing the ports, and we must welcome these people by hosting them in special facilities to give them a future. Without forgetting that the right to life, freedom and personal dignity exists, regardless of the country of origin.

  27. avatar

    Nowadays human trafficking has become more and more dangerous. People should start to take this problem more seriously. The people who escape form their country put themselves in risky conditions on an overcrowded boat not knowing if they will reach another country alive. They escape for the civil war due to a bad political situation or for economic reasons in their home country. They are humans and they deserve a decent life. The situation should be taken in hand form the most influential politicians who can make the difference. In fact the strongest European countries should offer a help going to the countries where refugees are escaping from and try to give a solution the the main problems.
    I think responsable governments can improve the situation. The problem is in the foundations, in deed it should be solved at the beginning and not in the end.

  28. avatar
    tom kennedy

    we can stop human trafficking and abuse to refugees by excepting refugees for who they are and making them feel like they belong in their asylum country and not sending them back to their unchosen country. Also by giving them a place to stay that is safe and away from danger

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