25 March 2016

Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing violent conflicts and taking dangerous routes to reach Europe are at high risk of exploitation and trafficking, with unaccompanied and separated children being particularly vulnerable, highlights the Council of Europe group of experts on anti-trafficking (GRETA) in a newly published report. GRETA is responsible for monitoring the implementation of countries’ obligations under the Anti-Trafficking Convention and regularly publishes evaluation reports.

The report raises concerns regarding the significant number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children who go missing from their reception centres, disapearances from which are often orchestrated by traffickers. GRETA has made recommendations to 36 out of 40 countries evaluated with the aim of improving the identification of child victims of trafficking. Furthermore, the report warns that the increasing proportion of women and girls reaching Europe heightens the risk of trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

It repeats its call on states to ensure that migration policies and measures to combat smuggling do not risk the lives and safety of trafficked people, given that law enforcement efforts aimed at reducing irregular migration may not adequately identify and protect victims. GRETA’s president emphasises that regardless of the refugee crisis states still have legal obligations to identify victims of trafficking which they cannot derogate from.  “People attempting to reach Europe are easy prey for traffickers, especially as they often face barriers to getting help. States’ legal obligations of identification and protection are a bulwark against the trafficking and exploitation of human beings and a weapon against traffickers,” Nicolas Le Coz said.

The report also reiterates the difference between the terms ‘smuggling’ and ‘trafficking’ which are often used interchangeably by the media, but refer to distinct issues requiring differing responsibilities.

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This article will appear in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 25 March 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.