ICMPD Webinar: How are the Syrian Conflict and the Refugee Situation affecting Trafficking in Persons in Syria and the Neighbouring Countries?

On Monday 6 June 2016, ICMPD held a webinar to discuss research on the effects of the Syrian conflict on trafficking in persons in the countries most affected by the displacement: Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

The webinar featured UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Ms. Maria Grazia Giammarinaro and the author of ICMPD’s study Targeting Vulnerabilities, Dr. Claire Healy. It was moderated and presented by Ms. Elisa Trossero, Programme Manager of ICMPD’s Anti-Trafficking Programme.

The main topics of the webinar were:

  • The challenges of responding to trafficking in persons (TIP) in the context of conflict;
  • The main research findings of the study Targeting Vulnerabilities: The Impact of the Syrian War and Refugee Situation on Trafficking in Persons - A Study of Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq;
  • Evidence-based recommendations to prevent trafficking and protect trafficked people in the context of the Syrian conflict and displacement

Directly access the presentation on Targeting Vulnerabilities

Watch video here


Responding to Trafficking in Persons in the Context of Conflict - Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children

In this presentation, Ms. Giammarinaro stated that the linkage between trafficking in persons and conflict is not a mere possibility, it is a direct consequence of conflict. This is because instability, collapse of the rule of law, displacement, situations of vulnerability and marginalisation are exacerbated, and new vulnerabilities emerge.

Four key aspects:

  • Sexual violence, sexual exploitation and sexual slavery affecting women and girls kidnapped by terrorist, armed groups (Da’ish/ISIS, Boko Haram) is becoming systemic. There are personal testimonies and reports available about this, and it has been discussed as a gross human rights violation and a tactic of war and terrorism at the UN Security Council.
  • For women and girls in displaced communities, e.g. in Jordan, the risk of early and forced marriages is high. This includes girls “sold” by their family, but it is also a negative coping mechanism in the context of war and displacement. Girls and women end up in forced/servile marriages, commercial sexual exploitation and temporary forced marriages for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
  • Syrian refugees not living in camps – the majority in Syria’s neighbouring countries - often are in very desperate situations and may work for little or no salary in agriculture, for example, in return for a place to live. In some cases this leads to child labour and sexual exploitation of vulnerable people. There is a need for shared responsibility to respond to this, as it will continue unless the international community effectively responds.
  • People fleeing a conflict situation, particularly outside of the region, are very vulnerable to trafficking, as the journey is expensive and some people sell all their property to pay for it. Some are dying in the Mediterranean Sea, while some children have lost their families on the journey. When they arrive in a transit country or their intended destination country they are again faced with the challenges of survival and may accept any proposal of work, including exploitative work. So far, international cooperation at the European level has failed. There is a “complete lack of human compassion” among some politicians in Europe. We need to mobilise political, legal and moral resources to respond. This should be seen as a global humanitarian crisis and every country should take their share of responsibility.

Trafficking is a social and economic issue with important interests involved, so everyone has to play a role to ensure trafficked people’s rights are respected and to prevent risks of trafficking.

Methodology, Research Findings and Recommendations of the Targeting Vulnerabilities study - Dr. Claire Healy, ICMPD Research Officer and Author of the Targeting Vulnerabilities study. 

Watch videos here and here.

In this presentation, Dr. Healy presented the research findings and recommendations of the study.

Key findings:

  • The desperation of some of people displaced by the Syrian conflict, especially parents who cannot provide for sustenance, accommodation and essential services for themselves and their children, can lead to them exploiting members of their own families. The classic organised crime paradigm commonly used for understanding trafficking does not fit neatly onto the actual situation of people trafficked in the context of the Syrian conflict.
  • Worst forms of child labour, child trafficking for labour exploitation, exploitation through begging and trafficking for sexual exploitation affected people in the countries under study before the war, but have now increased among Syrians.
  • In most of the cases revealed through this research, trafficking is not a cross-border phenomenon related to the migratory movement itself, though cross-border trafficking is present in some cases. The trafficking process commonly begins when victims are already displaced, targeting their vulnerability.
  • Refugees intending to seek safety in Europe must pay substantial sums of money, and maybe even go into debt, to migrant smugglers. One major risk is that a situation of migrant smuggling can develop into one of human trafficking.

Key recommendations:

  • One welcome development since the publication of the study is the issuing of the Work Permit Regulation to allow people who fled the Syrian war to enter the labour market in Turkey, and the opening up of opportunities for income generation for the displaced population in Jordan. Opportunities for income generation for adults will reduce the incidence of low-level trafficking.
  • The capacities of the governments in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq are significantly affected by the ongoing war and the arrival of large groups of people fleeing Syria. So investment in infrastructure in hosting countries in the region and resettlement to safe countries outside the region, particularly in the EU, is essential.
  • To make sure that vulnerable children, women and men do not fall through the gaps in our aid structures, international and national actors should always take into account that a refugee or internally displaced person may also be a victim of human trafficking.
  • The focus of national governments, local NGOs, international organisations, aid agencies, the EU and others must be to ameliorate people’s vulnerabilities and increase their resilience, giving them alternatives that are not merely the ‘least bad option’, and providing them with what they need in order to better cope with the ravages of violence and displacement.

Many participants provided their input, discussions and questions in the chat section of the webinar. This was an opportunity to react and contribute to what was being discussed in the presentations and the Q&A, based on participants’ own experience and expertise. Download a summary of the discussion here.