Expert Voice

Identify – Refer – Protect – Build Resilience to Human Trafficking

18 October 2019

On the occasion of EU Anti-Trafficking Day, 18 October 2019, ICMPD’s Anti-Trafficking Programme stresses the importance of national and regional cooperation and referral to build people’s resilience to human trafficking and ensure an adequate response to trafficking cases.

By Dr. Claire Healy

Earlier this year, ICMPD launched a ground-breaking study – The Strength to Carry On - on resilience and vulnerability to human trafficking and other abuses among people on the move to the EU during 2015-2018. Among other key findings and recommendations, the study highlighted that the focus in anti-trafficking in this context should be on how people can remain resilient to trafficking and other abuses, and on mitigating vulnerabilities and exposure to dangers. To remain resilient, the study recommends incorporating screening of vulnerabilities, and of potential trafficking cases, into the asylum process, by providing specialist training to asylum authorities and through procedures for referral.

National and Transnational Referral Mechanisms for the protection of trafficked people are an essential measure to ensure that trafficked people can access their rights, and should incorporate specific measures related to the context of people on the move, including separated and unaccompanied children. As part of the EU-funded project Trafficking along Migration Routes to Europe: Bridging the Gap between Migration, Asylum and Anti-Trafficking, ICMPD partnered with the NGO Terre des hommes to develop an e-learning module to help frontline professionals to quickly and effectively identify and refer presumed victims of trafficking among migrants and refugees - and prevent abuse.

It is also essential to promote bilateral and multilateral mechanisms for identification, protection, investigation and prosecution between transit and destination countries along the migration routes. People on the move who are at risk of trafficking may not be identified or protected due to a lack of coordination between asylum, migration and anti-trafficking authorities, at national and transnational level. The asylum procedure presents an opportunity to identify cases of vulnerability to trafficking and of potential trafficking, which, if taken advantage of, can prevent trafficking, increase the identification of trafficked people among asylum applicants, and ensure that people have access to the protection measures and justice to which they are entitled.

National and regional referral mechanisms and networks

Since 2006, ICMPD has been pioneering the development of unified guidelines and standard operating procedures for the protection of trafficked people at national and regional level. During 2006-2009, these guidelines were first developed for the South-Eastern Europe region, and were then revised and extended during 2009-2010 for the EU Guidelines for the Development of a Transnational Referral Mechanism for Trafficked Persons in Europe: TRM-EU. Practical tools and indicators to be used in initial screening, formal identification, risk assessment, etc. were developed under this framework, and in 2010, the Network of National Anti-Trafficking Coordinators from South-Eastern Europe (SEE) was established, with ICMPD as a Secretariat,  with the aim of exchanging expertise and further developing and improving transnational cooperation on countering human trafficking in the region. In 2014, ICMPD also assisted the Swedish Government in developing a specific TRM.

This model for transnational referral continues to be adapted and expanded to other regions. It is therefore timely that the European Commission recently commissioned a study on NRMs and TRMs in the EU, to which ICMPD is contributing expertise. This month, the ICMPD Anti-Trafficking Programme was in Abuja, Nigeria to meet with our partners at the Headquarters of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Secretariat, to commence work on a new EU-funded project under the GIZ-led OCWAR-T programme to develop the Regional Referral Mechanism for the protection of trafficked people in the West African sub-region.

Transnational referral and cooperation are essential elements of an effective response to human trafficking, and help to build resilience and reduce vulnerability to trafficking, ensuring the protection of the rights of adults and children on the move, and contributing to overall stability, security and rule of law in the EU and beyond.


Dr. Claire Healy is research officer of the ICMPD Anti-Trafficking Programme