Martin Reeve is a regional advisor to GLO.ACT common european unionUnited Nations Office on Drugs and Crime The program focuses on Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. He spoke to UN News from his base in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
“As a regional advisor to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, I reach out to police officers and other criminal justice officials to help them improve their responses. Trafficking in persons And smuggling migrants.
Here in Iraq, I have heard credible accounts of trafficking for sexual exploitation, especially young women and girls, and of migrant workers, especially women, for domestic work.
There are reports that men and women from Asia and Africa, who migrate legally and irregularly to Iraq, are subjected to forced labor as construction workers, security guards, cleaners, manual laborers, and domestic workers.
Trafficking for the purpose of organ removal appears to be a significant problem based on anecdotal evidence from law enforcement counterparts.
Trafficking is not smuggling
We spend a lot of time really emphasizing to law enforcement officers in the area that human trafficking and migrant smuggling are actually very different, even though they are often confused, especially in the news media.
Human trafficking is really all about exploiting an individual. It is about creating a human good and then using that person for profit, through their labor, sexual services, or other forms of exploitation.
I first worked on the human trafficking case earlier in my career, when I was based in Vienna. There was a young woman who was sexually exploited in London.
She participated in the rescue operation. This was a moving experience and definitely gave me an understanding of the true nature of this crime and its impact on people.
Migrant smuggling is a relationship between a person who wants to emigrate but cannot do so legally, and an individual or group providing a criminal service.
The immigrant chooses an irregular method and a service provider who is the smuggler. A fee is paid to cross the border illegally. The immigrant, at least in theory, is then free to go.
These are the main differences, but very often the migrants who chose this method of moving from one country to another are very vulnerable.
They have no legal status in the destination country, often do not speak the language, often have very little sources of income or support in the country they arrive in, and are preyed upon by human traffickers. Often immigrants find themselves saddled with debts to those who arranged their immigration.
Growing understanding of trafficking
Over the past 25 years, our understanding of the phenomenon of human trafficking has grown, and we now realize that trafficking is not just about sex but includes other ways in which people can be exploited in all kinds of sectors of the economy.
For example, in construction or agriculture or inside factories, in fact, anywhere you find a lot of low-skilled, low-paid manual workers.
One of the real challenges in forced labor, in particular, is identifying when exploitative working conditions tip the balance into what becomes a criminal case for human trafficking.
There are few prosecutions and convictions for human trafficking cases, in part because it is a hard-to-prove crime. But there are successes and it is not unusual for someone involved in trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation to end up being tried for crimes such as rape, because they are easy to prove, easy for jurors to understand and do not have the complexities that a trafficking type trial might have.
Rights-based and victim-centered approaches are fundamental to everything we do. I find it rewarding when I see that we have made a difference and that our work is producing results. This does not happen every day. One has to be patient and a lot of times it can be frustrating.
Focus on the smuggler, not the immigrant
With migrant smuggling, we shift the focus from the migrants themselves to the people regulating their illegal movements, and emphasize that we should not criminalize the migrants themselves.
Migrants, when transported by smuggling networks, are exposed to enormous personal risks. As we know from horror stories in the Mediterranean and elsewhere around the world, many die en route, in the backs of trucks or on unseaworthy boats.
The smugglers obviously don’t care much about this. They are interested in money, which is a very profitable industry.
We have to realize that pressures on immigration are likely to increase, not decrease in the coming years, so criminal networks will continue to seek profit by facilitating irregular migration.
Migrant smuggling and trafficking associated with irregular migration will remain significant threats to human security.