|As we prepare for World Refugee Day next month, it is vital to highlight the resilience and strength of displaced individuals around the globe, all the while recognizing the vulnerabilities they face. Taking the necessary steps to protect them from the crime of human trafficking is an important measure that we can all recognize. As a universal Church in every country worldwide, Catholics can play a vital role in protecting these vulnerable populations from the evil of human trafficking and establishing initiatives aimed at prevention, detection, and support.
War and Conflict are drivers for individuals fleeing their country or displaced persons. The war in Ukraine has shown the effects of individuals fleeing for shelter, safety, and protection. The speed and scale of the invasion of Russia have demonstrated how acts of war and violence increase the threat of human trafficking. Individuals forced to flee their environments often leave their jobs, homes, families, and support networks, making them susceptible to victimization. Specifically, those traveling to refugee camps, where the journey can be dangerous, and people may find themselves lacking basic resources and needs. Moreover, being isolated, discriminated against, or lack of legal status or protections affects their means of making an income. Perpetrators often recruit individuals faced with political, economic, or social instabilities, luring them in through promises of security, safety, and financial security. It is vital to note that many refugees fleeing their homes look towards smugglers or other services to cross to a new country and often find themselves in situations with high exposure to victimization.
The circumstances surrounding forced displacement, including armed conflict, political instability, and economic hardship, create a breeding ground for human trafficking. Exploring this intersection helps us understand the increased vulnerability of refugees, migrants, and asylees to exploitation. Frequently, trafficking and smuggling occur on the same routes of travel, use similar transportation methods, and can be carried out by the same perpetrators. Smuggled individuals can be victimized before, during, or after their journey. Both smugglers and traffickers have a significant advantage over their victims, where there is an inherent disparity in power between the smuggler/trafficker and the migrant. One should not presume that simply because a migrant might consent to a smuggling situation, that there are no serious risks being undertaken by the migrant. It is not unusual for a smuggling situation to morph into a trafficking situation. Those who promise help are, at times, planning harm.