Thursday, June 20, 2013

Today is World Refugee Day: Why Refugees are at a High Risk for being Trafficked

Refugees and Human Trafficking

Today is World Refugee day, established by the United Nations to honor the courage, strength and determination of women, men, and children who are forced to flee their homes due to threat of conflict, violence, and persecution. However, they often face the same or worse dangers once they flee their homeland. One such danger in human trafficking.

Why are Refugees at Such a High Risk for Human Trafficking?

Risk factors

  1. Their physical insecurity
  2. Social, economic, and political marginalization
  3. Victimization by smugglers facilitating refugee movement
  4. Experience with sexual violence
  5. Social isolation or other negative consequences resulting from sexual violence
  6. Pressure to engage in survival sex
  7. Severe disruptions to family structure
  8. Lack of legal protection
Refugees make perfect targets for human trafficking due to these risk factors. The desperateness of their situation allows traffickers to target them and play on their need for survival.

Instances of refugees being trafficked are all over the news. For example, today over two dozen Somalis, including women, were indicted for kidnapping, raping, and selling underage girls. They recruited their targets from the Somali refugee communities in St. Paul, Minn; Minneapolis; Columbus, Ohio; and Nashville.

There have even been claims that the Thai military has been trafficking Rohingya refugees, who are escaping persecution in Burma. In another instance, a Rohingya mother testified that her daughter was sold while staying at a refugee camp in China. "We were staying in an IDP camp near Laiza when my 15-year-old daughter was sold. She was studying at the school in the camp, but had taken three days off school to collect coffee on the China side. There she met Ma B., a woman living China, who told her Chinese men liked her and wanted to marry her." There have been over 24 cases in this particular camp of actual or suspected trafficking involving women displaced by the war. Many of the women were sold to Chinese husbands as brides or bonded labor for around $6,500.

Another large issue is legal protection. There are significant limitations to refugee law. Watch this video to learn more:

Children are particularly at risk

Separated refugee children are often living without their parents or other customary caregivers. They may have been separated from their parents in the context of a conflict situation, become separated during flight, or endured other traumatic situations. There is no set way of housing refugee children, so they could either be living in formal or informal fostering arrangements, or live in supervised group homes with other separated children. Due to the precipitous nature of refugee flight, separated children may be living with families that do not treat them as full members, facing risks of physical, sexual or emotional abuse, or neglect or abandonment. These children are at greater risk for trafficking.

So What Can We Do?

There are many steps that we can take to protect refugees from the risks of human trafficking.

Outreach programs are important, as well as changing legislature to treat refugees as victims rather than criminals.
Other important programs are programs that service the needs of refugees, such as physical, mental health, and dental examinations, counselling, and legal assistance, such as explanation of client rights and responsibilities, litigation and witness assistance in criminal prosecutions, family and civil matters, and immigration specific legal action such as application for T visas, immigration relief, adjustment of status, and general advocacy.

 For more information, go to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Jasmine Prokscha

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