The Effect of War and Civil Unrest on Human Trafficking
The connection between human trafficking and war and civil unrest is undeniable. War and civil unrest create instability, a primary cause of human trafficking.
In Ukraine, war, displacement, and the economic crisis have increased the number of people susceptible to human trafficking; 21% of the population is now considered vulnerable. In addition, nearly seven million are internally displaced in Ukraine, and approximately 12 million have fled to neighboring countries.
The unprecedented number of internally displaced people, migrants, and asylum seekers, coupled with economic depression, has created an environment ripe for human trafficking.
While the Russian invasion of Ukraine has dominated the news headlines for the past several months, there are other places where conflict is ongoing or simmering beneath the surface — like Syria, Myanmar, South Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Iraq, to name a few.
Refugees Are Particularly Vulnerable to Human Trafficking
When a conflict breaks out and people flee their homes, they are often left with no shelter, food, money, or transportation to escape the conflict zone, making them vulnerable to human trafficking.
War and civil unrest cause tremendous disruptions, resulting in mass migration, displacement of populations, and a breakdown of social services. These conditions — widespread destruction or conflict-related insecurity — often result in people fleeing their homes and becoming refugees, making them susceptible to human traffickers.
Refugees are forced to depend on aid agencies for food and shelter until it’s safe for them to return home or find legitimate employment elsewhere. Unfortunately, depending on others for survival makes people more susceptible to exploitation by traffickers.
Overcrowded refugee camps and settlements with little access to food or water make it difficult for refugees to meet basic survival needs like shelter or healthcare. A lack of access to essential services can also mean that many refugees must engage in informal labor activities, many exploitative, for their families to survive.
Conflict-related displacement doesn’t always happen overseas. Instead, people often become displaced within their countries of origin during intense violence such as civil wars or cross-border conflicts like those between Israel and Palestine. As a result, mass migration occurs across borders into neighboring countries like Jordan, where refugees are often settled in refugee camps.
Traffickers Promise Non-Existent Jobs
Traffickers offer victims work opportunities abroad but use deception or force against them once they arrive at destination locations. These locations are often other countries within Africa or Europe where there are no laws protecting workers from poor working conditions, including excessive hours without pay.
Because they are usually displaced, refugees have few resources and lack legal status. As a result, these individuals often face incredible hardships during their displacement, increasing their risk of being trafficked.
Girls and Women Refugees Are Often Trafficked Into Sex Work
For example, following the war in Bosnia in the 1990s (referred to as the Bosnian War), thousands of refugees fled the country for neighboring Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro. Many women escaping violence at home endured forced prostitution abroad because they thought they had no other choice for survival but prostitution or sex slavery.
Once they arrive in other countries, many girls find themselves in even more danger because they are preyed upon for sex work by traffickers who see them as easy targets. In addition, they are defenseless, don’t have legal status, and suffer from sexual trauma and violence due to their experiences escaping war-torn countries like Syria.
Women whose husbands were killed or imprisoned during conflict are also at risk. When law enforcement systems or government agencies break down during civil unrest, women whose spouses were killed or imprisoned may be particularly vulnerable to being trafficked by criminal gangs looking for recruits.
The Break Down in Social Structures Also Makes Those Who Remain Vulnerable
War and civil unrest can lead to a breakdown in social structures that normally prevent violence, including human trafficking. In addition, a lack of protection for remaining women and children can make them vulnerable to violence or exploitation by others.
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