A Major Transnational Crime
Many of us have followed the tragedy of Syria and the attendant heartbreak of streams of Syrian refugees pouring into Europe. The Syrian civil war has produced nearly five million refugees and even more internally displaced (IDPs). The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates another nine or so million refugees, and a worldwide total “population of concern” of nearly 49 million (includes refugees, IDPs, and stateless and other persons). That is more than the combined populations of the US states of California, Oregon and Washington.
But there is another tragedy often associated with refugees or internally displaced persons; that is the attendant rise in human trafficking, a major transnational crime. Traffickers prey upon the desperation of such people, exact huge sums of money and ultimately end up placing those trafficked in a state far worse than that of the most destitute refugee. Women and children are most prone to becoming trafficking victims.
Driven to Desperation
Refugees are one segment of the trafficked population. Today, there are Americans and even residents of Colorado who are trafficked. The runaway teen forced into commercial sex work, undocumented worker, the unsuspecting youth surfing the web for companionship, an unemployed single mother – all driven to desperation – are victims of the criminals who prey upon and take advantage of these innocents.
What these and so many others around the world have in common is that they are victims of a hidden crime. It is hidden because law enforcement, other authorities or the public at large are unaware of the victims. And the victims, because of either fear, ignorance or virtual imprisonment, are unable to access the law or other government and non-government institutions for help.
Despite the unseen nature of this crime, however, the estimated number of persons trafficked worldwide is between 21 and 30 million. That no doubt includes preyed-upon refugees and IDPs but also, for example, young girls trafficked to become sex slaves in their own countries, including in the U.S., and non-UN High Commission for Refugees-registered refugees forced into compulsory labor. It may also include some of the many undocumented farm and construction workers in the U.S. forced to take work at below minimum wage.
A Global Problem
The underground nature of this global crime also obscures the profits raked in by its perpetrators. One International Labor Organization paper estimated that global profits made from forced laborers exploited by private enterprises or agents reach US$ 44.3 billion every year, of which US$ 31.6 billion came from trafficked victims. The largest profits – more than $15 billion – are made from people trafficked and forced to work in industrialized countries.
This is a worldwide problem and is likely to grow even worse without concerted action. Starting in the early 2000s, America, one the larger receiving countries of victims of trafficking, began taking a pro-active position on the issue, passing stronger laws and vigorously advocating for UN conventions to stop human trafficking. But as the numbers suggest, the problem persists.
A Local Response
American citizens also have responded commendably to the problem, establishing hundreds of local and state-wide organizations, like Colorado’s Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking, to aid victims and educate law enforcement and communities to the problem. These local organizations are often the best placed to address human trafficking because they know and are better connected with their communities and can work more effectively with local organizations and law enforcement to identify and aid victims as well as educate their fellow community members. Without the help and concerted action of local communities, human trafficking will be with us for a very long time.
By leading such a worldwide effort, which includes resources, education and mobilization, America can help stem the human tragedy of trafficking and modern day slavery.