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On 18 October, Anti-Slavery Day 2016, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) recognises that human trafficking and modern slavery knows no borders – victims and survivors everywhere must be identified and protected, and traffickers stopped. Migrants are particularly at risk, as IOM data and analysis shows.

IOM has found that nearly three-quarters (71%) of migrants taking the Central Mediterranean routes connecting North Africa to Europe have experienced exploitation and practices which may amount to human trafficking, based on anonymous surveys taking place at arrival locations in Southern Italy.

The findings, based on an in-depth analysis of close to 9000 survey responses taken over the last ten months along the Central and Eastern Mediterranean routes, provide strong evidence of predatory behaviour by smugglers and traffickers and the kinds of enabling environments within which trafficking and associated forms of exploitation and abuse thrive.

While there have been many interviews, reports and qualitative studies that document the often horrific experiences of individuals along the migratory trails, the survey results are the first attempt to quantify the prevalence of these exploitative practices in a way that shines light on their alarming scale and frequency.

The survey includes six questions that are proxy indicators for potential human trafficking or exploitative practices, such as being forced to perform work or activities against their will, carrying out work or performing activities without getting the payment expected and being kept at locations against their will (by entities other than governmental authorities). For the Central Mediterranean route, 49% of respondents reported having been held in a location against their will during the journey in situations that amount to kidnapping for the purpose of requesting a ransom. Libya, a country experiencing protracted instability, is the location where the vast majority of cases of abuse were reported.

The findings also show that rates of positive responses to one of the indicators are between 7 and 10 times higher on the Central Mediterranean route than the rates of positive responses to the same survey conducted on the Eastern Mediterranean route. What emerges most clearly from the data is that the longer a migrant spends in transit, the more vulnerable they are to exploitation and/or human trafficking. In fact, 79% of migrants who had spent at least one year in a country different from that of origin had experienced at last one of the surveyed exploitative practices.

Furthermore, migrants interviewed in Italy spent more time in transit: 35% of respondents interviewed spent more than 6 months on the route to Europe, compared to 11% interviewed on the Eastern Mediterranean route. Although environmental, operational and personal factors may also contribute to a high rate of positive responses to the indicators, it is likely that journey duration plays a significant role.

“IOM is extremely concerned about the trends of exploitation and abuse that migrants are experiencing as they undertake their journeys towards Europe. On UK Anti-Slavery Day, a day designed to raise awareness about forms of modern-day slavery and reflect on how we are responding to the issues, it is important for us to look across to Europe and the rest of the world to see what more can be done to support those on the migratory trails, as well as those who have reached Europe. We need to remember that regardless of the reasons that people move, or their background, they deserve protection” says Dipti Pardeshi, Chief of Mission for IOM UK.

Clea Kahn, Humanitarian Advocacy Manager at the British Red Cross said: “The horrific experiences of people making this journey – regardless of where they started it or why – must be acknowledged and addressed. It is a humanitarian crisis in its own right.

“IOM’s survey findings provide further evidence of the concerns that I have, as Commissioner, that the migration crisis is clearly being used by human trafficking networks to target and brutally exploit the most vulnerable. There is need for urgent action to protect these people. I believe that a key focus for the UK and other governments must include collaborating with partners to prioritise safeguarding against the risks of modern slavery as part of the response to the migration and refugee crisis, in addition to scaling up targeted frontline anti-trafficking safeguarding and law enforcement operations” says Kevin Hyland OBE, the UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

IOM continues to provide protection-sensitive assistance for newly arrived migrants and refugees at points of disembarkation and first reception in Italy, including legal counselling, direct assistance, and referral to specialized services. IOM also supports authorities in the identification of victims of trafficking, those in need of urgent assistance, and those most vulnerable to abuse, trafficking and other exploitative practices. IOM in Greece is also scaling up to deliver forms of assistance. The results of the survey are designed to further strengthen these activities.

For further information, please contact Jenniffer Dew on or 0207 811 6035.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is an inter-governmental organisation committed to the principle that humane and orderly migration benefits both migrants and society. As the leading global organisation for migration, IOM works with migrants, governments and its partners in the international community to provide humane responses to the growing migration challenges of today. In September 2016, IOM became a related organisation of the United Nations.

Anti-Slavery Day was created to raise awareness of modern slavery and to inspire government, business and individuals to eliminate it. It takes place on 18 October. In the rest of Europe, the day is called EU Anti-trafficking Day.

The results presented here are based on analysis of data carried out on 11 October 2016, covering the period of December 2015 – September 2016 for the Eastern Mediterranean and June-September 2016 for the central Mediterranean route.

The sample size was 8475 (5695 Eastern Mediterranean and 2780 Central Mediterranean). Respondents who have previously participated in the survey, did not give consent to use their responses in the analysis, or who were under 14 years old, have been excluded from the analysis.

IOM publishes regular short response on results (descriptive statistics only and smaller samples) from these surveys on this page:

The latest report was published on 6 October 2016 and can be downloaded here.

Victims of trafficking in Libya are at particular risk as not only have they experienced trafficking and exploitation, but then they find themselves in a country that has been wracked by instability for the past five years. IOM has put together a guidance document for governments and humanitarian practitioners on how to work with victims of trafficking specifically in a crisis setting.

The survey has been conducted with the support of IOM’s Migrant Assistance Department. IOM's DTM migration flow monitoring operations in Europe have been funded by ECHO (European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department), SDC (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation) and DFID (United Kingdom Department for International Development).

The role of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner was established through the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (Part 4). The Commissioner has a UK-wide remit to encourage good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of modern slavery offences and the identification of victims. The role was created to spearhead the UK’s fight against modern slavery.