News & Events

31/07/17

It is believed that millions are currently victims of trafficking in persons around the world. It is almost impossible to think about each one of those numbers as individual human beings and it can feel like an insurmountable problem. But it isn’t. And on this World Day Against Trafficking in Persons we must believe that not only can we make a dent but that we can make significant inroads into eliminating it.

At the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN’s Migration Agency I head, we deal with trafficking in persons on a daily basis. We know that trafficking involves more than kidnapping and selling of persons, people forced into jobs against their will, and victims forced to give away a kidney or other vital organs. Trafficking in persons can occur ever so subtly as in cases of employment pathways, where workers are charged for recruitment and placement fees, have their wages withheld, or cannot leave their employers and thus are put into vulnerable situations where they are further exploited and become trafficked. Migrants travelling on regular or irregular migration routes around the globe are highly vulnerable to these kinds of abuses. Many who start their journeys by willingly placing themselves in the hands of smugglers can also become victims of trafficking along the way.

In addition to our and our partners’ hands-on work in providing protection and assistance to already some 90,000 victims of trafficking over the years, we are working tirelessly to collect and analyze global data on trafficking so that we can collectively improve and implement the best practices and inform policies and programmes to better address trafficking in persons.

For instance, since 2015, IOM has surveyed over 22,000 migrants on the journey on the Eastern and Central Mediterranean routes. This is the largest-scale survey yet to explore migrants’ vulnerability to trafficking and exploitation on the Mediterranean routes to Europe. Around 39% of individuals interviewed had a personal experience that indicates the presence of trafficking in persons or other exploitative practices along the route with many reporting direct experiences of abuse, exploitation and practices which can amount to trafficking in persons. Looking at just the Central route, a shocking 73% of those interviewed indicated this. With this research IOM is currently exploring which factors predict migrants’ vulnerability to human trafficking and exploitation on their journey.

It is also our goal to facilitate cross-border, trans-agency analysis and provide the counter-trafficking community with the information we need to develop a more comprehensive understanding of this complex issue. To this end, we will soon be launching the Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative. Drawing on IOM’s and partners’ victim case data, this will be the first ever open access data platform for human trafficking data.

As we develop new knowledge and tools, it is critical that we share our findings and communicate with other global leaders. This September, in an effort to develop the “Global Compact on Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration,” governments will come together to discuss smuggling of migrants, trafficking in persons and contemporary forms of slavery, including appropriate identification, protection and assistance to migrants and trafficking victims. This will be our chance to share our expertise learned from decades of research and practice in this field and to learn from others.

We are learning more, and understanding how to better respond to trafficking in persons, yet there are still many unanswered questions. What makes migrants susceptible to trafficking? What do we know about those being trafficked now? And how do we best stop it from occurring in the future?

We may not have all the answers yet, but we do know that we must now accumulate the data and knowledge we have and make it transferrable so that we can all benefit from it. We do not know everyone who could be at risk but we do know we need to make migration safer, more orderly, and more regular to make migrants less vulnerable. We do not know the exact number of victims of trafficking, but we do know it’s far too many.

The fight against trafficking in persons requires us to strive for answers to our many questions. It requires us to better respond, with shared data, knowledge, and tools, and it requires us to respond together.
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William Lacy Swing is the Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Migration Agency
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24/07/17
Over the past three years, IOM Italy has seen an almost 600 per cent increase in the number of potential sex trafficking victims arriving in Italy by sea. This upward trend has continued during the first six months of 2017, with most victims arriving from Nigeria.

This is one of the key findings of a new report published by IOM, the UN Migration Agency, Human Trafficking through the Central Mediterranean Route, which was released in Italian this week (21 July) by IOM’s Coordination Office for the Mediterranean in Rome. An English version will be available soon.

Among other findings, the report states that sexual exploitation increasingly involves younger girls – often minors – who are already subject to violence and abuse on their way to Europe. IOM estimates that 80 per cent of girls arriving from Nigeria – whose numbers have soared from 1,454 in 2014 to 11,009 in 2016 – are potential victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.

The report is based on data collected by IOM at landing sites and in reception centres for migrants in the regions of southern Italy, where the Organization carries out identification of potential victims and assists those who, once identified, decide to escape their exploiters and accept IOM support.

"Trafficking is a transnational crime that devastates the lives of thousands of people and is the cause of untold suffering," said Federico Soda, Director of the IOM Coordinating Office for the Mediterranean. "This is a theme we have been working on for years, committing to protect, prevent and collaborate with the authorities dealing with organized crime."

IOM Project Manager Carlotta Santarossa added: "The report describes the organization's activities in the face of this phenomenon: the difficulties in protecting victims and the main vulnerabilities identified among several cases of people who were assisted by the Organization. We also wanted to tell some of the stories of people who have been assisted by IOM staff to highlight the true nature of this painful and hateful form of slavery. We also feel that it is increasingly urgent that data analysis be accompanied by an examination of the market these girls supply, and the growing demand for paid sexual services."


IOM staff working in Sicily and elsewhere meet potential trafficking victims as soon as they reach Italian soil. This allows IOM to develop a list of indicators that are useful in the identification of potential trafficking victims amongst the newly arrived migrants, using indicators based on information collected during individual and group meetings with migrants. These indicators are broadly described in the report, accompanied by some of the stories that have been collected by IOM staff during their activities.

Among the more significant indicators:
  • Gender: Most sex trafficking victims are women;
  • Age: Most victims are young and often underage, between 13 and 24 years old. (In 2016, there was a decrease in the age of the youngest victims of trafficking);
  • Nationality: It is important to emphasize the peculiarities of the case of trafficking victims from Nigeria, not only from Edo State but from different parts of the country (Delta, Lagos, Ogun, Anambra, and Imo are the states of origin that, apart from Edo State, are most cited by the Nigerians met by IOM);
  • Psycho-physical Wellness: In a group setting, victims of trafficking are usually the most submissive and silent. Sometimes they are obviously controlled by other migrants that speak on their behalf, or refuse to let IOM staff interview them in private.

Other indicators of trafficking emerge during in-depth individual talks; for example, some migrants claim that they have not paid anything for the journey because someone else paid for their movements. When IOM staff identify a potential trafficking victim, they explain to them that it is possible to access certain protection mechanisms and, with the victim’s consent, the Organization’s staff report the victim on the anti-trafficking toll-free number. If the person agrees, IOM staff also provide assistance in communicating and filing a report to the investigating authorities.

Activities in the field demonstrate that most trafficking victims are not willing, at least at first, to reveal their experience or to take advantage of security programmes provided by IOM and local institutions. There are many reasons for this including links between trafficking victims and traffickers, the control that the accompanying person (for instance, madame or boga) has over the victims, or the belief that victims cannot violate an oath sealed with a voodoo ritual or a rite of initiation (the victim is committed to honouring her agreement). Finally, there is a sense of responsibility towards one’s family that results in a fear of retaliation by traffickers on the victim’s family members back in their country of origin.

Very often the young women whom IOM staff meet have been victims of sexual violence during their journey; they have experienced serious trauma and suffer from psychological distress.


For more information on the report, please click HERE.

For more information, please contact:
Flavio Di Giacomo, IOM Italy, Tel: +39 347 089 8996, Email: fdigiacomo@iom.int
Joel Millman, IOM HQ, Tel: +41 79 103 8720, Email: jmillman@iom.int
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