Extremely disturbing information about how migrants are paying over US$8,000 to the transnational human trafficking rackets for transporting them mostly through sea-routes to European countries, whereas organized traffickers from Turkey, Pakistan, Malta, Somalia, Tunisia, Myanmar, Colombia, Mexico, Cuba, Nigeria, Philippines, Syria and few other countries are behind handling of such illegal activities.
Although found in every country and every region, trafficking in persons remains a hidden crime, with perpetrators operating in the dark corners of the internet and the underbelly of the global economy to entrap victims for sexual exploitation, forced labor, domestic servitude and other forms of exploitation.
While major segment of these trafficked men, women and children hail from extremely poor or marginalized family background, it is a mystery wherefrom they manage such an amount of cash (over US$8,000), which they need to pay for getting trafficked from Turkey to Europe. In this article, we shall try to find answer to this question, while we are going to present plenty of shocking and even alarming fact on this matter. But we still are gathering information about Islamist militancy groups such as Islamic State (ISIS), which also are using human trafficking and selling human organs as one of the growing sources of its income.
According to an investigative report published in Italian newspaper il Giornale, when Italian police investigated the cases of people illegally reaching the country mostly through boats, it was revealed that illegal migrants are required to pay a “fee” of eight thousand Euros to organized transnational human trafficking rackets mainly run by Turkish and Pakistani nationals.
Each time, during their journey to European destinations by inflated boats or engine-driven fishing boats, dozens of people die. Because, in most cases, engines in those boats catch fire because those are not capable of running for hours. Once any boat faces such catastrophe or the migrants on the boats are hit with tidal waves, smugglers would force them to remain silent – in some cases at gun point and if anyone does not comply with, smugglers would simply throw them in the ocean.
But the Italian newspaper did not ask a vital question to those illegal migrants – wherefrom they get such a large amount of money for paying the smugglers.
What UNODC says about this matter?
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), for every 10 victims detected globally, five are adult women and two are girls. Migrants account for a significant share of the detected victims in most regions. Traffickers prey upon the marginalized and impoverished. Cases examined by UNODC found that at least half involved victims who were targeted because of economic need.
Children living in extremely poor households are especially vulnerable, and countries in West Africa, South Asia and Central America and the Caribbean report much higher shares of detected child victims. Globally, one in every three victims detected is a child, but in low income countries, children account for half of the victims detected, most of them trafficked for forced labor.
UNODC has been systematically collecting and analyzing data on trafficking in persons for more than a decade. During this time, an increasing number of countries have criminalized trafficking in line with the Trafficking in Persons Protocol under the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime.
Criminals trafficking children target victims from extremely poor households, dysfunctional families or those who are abandoned with no parental care. In low-income countries, children make up half of the victims detected and are mainly trafficked for forced labor (46 per cent). In higher income countries, children are trafficked mainly for sexual exploitation, forced criminality or begging.
Children account for about one third of the detected victims of trafficking. Trafficking of children, however, disproportionally affects low-income countries, where it is linked to the broader phenomenon of child labor. In Sub-Saharan Africa, children have been trafficked to work on plantations, in mines and quarries, on farms, as vendors in markets and on the streets. In South Asia, children as young as 12 have been trafficked to work in brick kilns, hotels, the garment industry and in agriculture. Child trafficking for forced labor has also been reported on South American plantations.
In addition to sexual exploitation (72 per cent of girl victims) and forced labor (66 per cent of boys), children are exploited for begging and forced criminal activities, such as drug trafficking, among other crimes. Traffickers in these cases often leverage difficult family backgrounds, trying to create a sense of belonging for the victim. Case summaries and literature show that parents and siblings may also be directly involved in child trafficking.
Trafficking victims who do not have permission to work or stay in the country of exploitation face an extra layer of vulnerability. The fear of being exposed as an irregular migrant can be a powerful tool for traffickers, who typically threaten to file reports with the authorities and can more easily keep victims under exploitative conditions. Migrants make up a significant share of the detected victims in most global regions: 65 per cent in Western and Southern Europe, 60 per cent in the Middle East, 55 per cent in East Asia and the Pacific, 50 per cent in Central and South-Eastern Europe, and 25 per cent in North America.
Traffickers exploit the victims in a variety of forms
Overall, 50 per cent of detected victims were trafficked for sexual exploitation and 38 per cent for forced labor, while 6 per cent were subjected to forced criminal activity and more than one per cent to begging. Smaller numbers were trafficked for forced marriages, organ removals and other purposes. Victims of trafficking for forced labor are exploited across a range of economic sectors, including agriculture, construction, fishing industry, mining, street trading and domestic servitude.
Although patterns of trafficking for forced labor vary across economic sectors, one aspect is true for all sectors: it is generally the result of a deterioration of labor rights, such as lower salaries, longer working hours, reduced protections and informal employment. Also, it is mainly a cross-border phenomenon, especially in high-income countries – dozens of court cases involving hundreds of victims of trafficking for forced labor analyzed by UNODC overwhelmingly involved a cross-border element. Victims were taken from their countries in much larger proportion than for any other form of trafficking.
Actors engaged in trafficking range from organized criminal groups – well-structured groups operating as business enterprises, seeking territorial control – to individuals operating on their own or in small groups on an opportunistic basis.
When organized criminal groups are involved, many more victims are trafficked, often for longer periods, across wider distances and with more violence. However, a higher number of court cases analyzed by UNODC reported of single traffickers than those involving organized crime groups.
One group specialized in trafficking for sexual exploitation across Central America and North America, for example, operated for more than a decade before being dismantled. These well-organized groups are typically involved in other crimes. West African groups trafficking victims to Europe, for example, systematically engage in drug trafficking, money laundering, financial fraud and other transnational crimes, as reported by national authorities.
While many traffickers have criminal backgrounds and use trafficking as a direct source of income, there are also business owners, intimate partners and other family members involved in human trafficking. Court cases reveal instances of parents facilitating the sexual exploitation of their children or forcing them into street begging. Other cases involve business owners exploiting victims into forced labor.
More broadly, almost two-thirds of people convicted of trafficking in persons offences in 2018 were male, although participation of women is higher compared with other crimes. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, more women than men are convicted for trafficking in persons. Most convicted traffickers were citizens of the country where they were sentenced, while roughly one quarter were foreigners. Countries of origin convict their own citizens (95 per cent), while countries of destination tend to convict more foreigners (52 per cent). These trends were consistent with previous years.
Court cases and literature suggest that some trafficking operations are organized as recruiting agencies typically used by potential migrants seeking work abroad. In these instances, workers are often deceived over the fees taken from their wages to allegedly cover the job search, official documents, transport, housing, and other services. Some agencies are reported to have charged up to 11 months’ salary.
These agencies are found in a range of economic sectors, including construction, fishing, agriculture, manufacturing, or cleaning. In some cases, agencies threaten the workers and they often have the power to intercept salaries paid by the company.
Small scale recruiters apply the same methods in poor rural communities. These traffickers approach families in extreme poverty, convince them to send their children to work, advance funds to buy the tools for labor, and put the families in perpetual debt bondage with their children trapped in exploitation.
Some agencies engaged in the recruitment of domestic workers in Asia for rich households in the Middle East and other parts of the world often charge fees to the employers. The employers often make the workers repay the fees – sometimes by withholding documents and refusing to allow the worker to leave until the fee is paid.
Recruiting victims may be no more profitable than an annual average salary in a legitimate business, according to these figures. The market value attached to victims is higher when it reaches the exploitation phase. There are examples where victims were sold for up to US$25,000 each in countries where they were going to be exploited.
Most cases of trafficking within high-income countries involve sexual exploitation of girls or young women. To recruit them, traffickers may exploit the victims’ vulnerable circumstances, such as socio-economic deprivation, substance abuse or precarious family situations. Traffickers often use manipulative methods such as feigning romantic interest for the victims and may not necessarily resort to violence.
Traffickers have kept pace with technology, becoming adept at using the internet for their trafficking operations. In the early days of the web, they used stand-alone sites, before exploiting the potential of classified ad sites and then moving into social media. The internet helps traffickers to operate in multiple locations simultaneously while physically exploiting the victims in just one location.
The first case of online trafficking recorded by UNODC took place in the early 2000s, when a free-standing webpage was used to connect buyers with local agents. Now, internet-based trafficking spans from the basic advertisement of victims online, to advanced combinations of smartphone apps in integrated business models to recruit victims and transfer profits.
Technology is used not only for sexual exploitation but also to coerce victims into crime and forced labor, and to advertise the selling of kidneys harvested from victims they have trafficked.
Hunting involves a trafficker actively pursuing a victim, typically on social media, initially as a friendly introduction that becomes more aggressive as the relationship develops.
Fishing strategies involve posting an advertisement and waiting for potential victims to respond, often using advertisements for high-paying or prestigious jobs. In one case, roughly 100 women were snared by an ad for modelling jobs overseas. The women were required to submit explicit images, before being told they were being recruited for sexual exploitation and blackmailed with the pictures. Fishing strategies can also be used to lure potential clients through advertisements for exploitative services. One court case showed how a single trafficker managed to connect one victim with more than 100 sex buyers over two months using an online ad.
While high proportions of child-trafficking cases involve platforms with higher levels of anonymity such as social media, cases where the victim is an adult are more likely to involve the use of free-standing webpages and other platforms involving open advertisements.
Over the last 15 years, the number of detected victims has increased for both females and males, but the number of detected men, boys, and girls has increased more than women so the profile of the victims detected has changed – the share of adult women falling from more than 70 per cent to less than 50 per cent in 2018. During the same period, a steady increase in the detection of girl and male victims has been recorded.
Sexual exploitation remains the most common motive for trafficking, but the share of those trafficked for forced labor has grown from 18 per cent to 38 per cent among detected cases. More recently, more victims have been detected for the purpose of forced criminality.
LGBTQI+ becoming vulnerable to falling prey of traffickers
Administrative records reported by most governments are not often helpful in understanding how LGBTQI+ individuals – persons who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or have other sexual orientations or gender identities – are vulnerable to trafficking in persons. However, a growing body of research shows that LGBTQI+ individuals are at higher risk of becoming victims of trafficking.
Recent studies show that LGBTQI+ children and young adults can be especially vulnerable to trafficking in persons for forced labor and sexual exploitation. First, their high vulnerability arises from their young age, as they are assumed to be easily manipulated and unable to protect themselves Second, their LGBTQI+ identity increases their vulnerability, as they are often marginalized in society and ostracized by friends and relatives who may force them out of their home. This combination is particularly appealing to traffickers who seek persons who are at the margins of societies and are less protected.
Because of the stigma existing in families and society, LGBTQI+ are over-represented amongst children living on the streets and are often exposed to discrimination by law enforcement, social service providers, emergency housing and shelter facilities. In North America, approximately between 20 and 40 per cent of homeless youth identify as LGTBQI+, while in contrast, less than 5 per cent of the general population identifies as LGBTQI+.
Homeless youth are vulnerable to both trafficking for forced labor and sexual exploitation because of poverty, histories of sexual abuse and lack of access mental health care.
Furthermore, LGBTQI+ youth are more likely to engage in illegal activities or resort to ‘transactional sex’ in exchange for money, shelter, food and other necessities, compared to homeless heterosexual youth.
Organized criminal gangs
There is evidence of large territorial criminal organizations engaging in trafficking in persons together with other forms of illicit trafficking, for example, the Mara Salvatrucha group in Central America.
There are other examples of transnational criminal groups involved in drugs trafficking, money laundering and other illicit trades active between West Africa and Europe that also engage in trafficking for sexual exploitation. For example, authorities in France reported some cases in which the criminal group Supreme Eiye Confraternity engaged in trafficking in persons along this route. The involvement of the similar types of groups were reported by Spanish and Italian authorities in cases of trafficking of women in combination with other criminal activities, such as credit cards fraud or money counterfeiting.
Meanwhile, in the United States, authorities reported persons associated with the Crips engaged in trafficking for sexual exploitation across different American states. Moreover, the US authorities also reported detecting a large gang specialized in trafficking for sexual exploitation across different countries Central and North America. This group operated for more than a decade with profits estimated at hundreds of thousands of US dollars (USD).
The eight members of the group were connected by family ties and exploited the victims by threatening their families back home. A similar modus operandi has been reported as being used by a group that traffics women for domestic servitude from Colombia to Mexico, as well as by a group recruiting men from Central Europe for exploitation in the construction sector in Canada. These groups had members in the countries of origin who could threaten the families of the victims to secure the victims’ obedience.
A different trafficker profile involves intimate relationships. Literature and court cases have documented how young men traffic female victims by enticing them into a romantic relationship. Often, these traffickers operate alone, trafficking one victim at the time. Some studies report that they normally take advantage of girls or young women with difficult family backgrounds and who lack affection. Usually under the pretext of a shortage of money, by means of emotional manipulation with increasing levels of physical threats or mistreatment, traffickers perpetuate the sexual abuse and exploitation of their partners. The level of manipulation often leads the victims to not perceive the situation as abusive, nor be willing to report partner abuse. Therefore, the relationship between the victim and her exploiter makes this form of trafficking more similar to domestic violence than to a typical form of organized crime.
Some court cases have shown that the entire trafficking process may involve more than one group, with some groups that specialize in recruitment of victims and others that specialize in exploitation. For example, Hungarian authorities dismantled a criminal scheme consisting of a group of people recruiting young women in Hungary that were to be sold to a different group for exploitation in Switzerland. A similar business model was used by a network involved in trafficking for forced marriage in at which traffickers make profits. Groups specialized in recruiting victims make profits by ‘selling’ victims, with the amount depending on their ability to negotiate the monetary value per victim. Whereas at the exploitation phase, profits are made from the selling of exploited services to third parties, or from reduction of costs derived from the victims’ un-paid services.
East Asia, where one group specialized in finding women in the rural areas of South-East Asia. Victims were then sold to a broker who sold them to another group that specialized in reselling them for forced marriage to men in other countries.
According to records, generally a trafficker spends between US$600-3,000 for collecting and transporting a victim to the country of destination, where, mostly girls and women are sold for an amount ranging between US$10,000 to US$15,000. In some cases, traffickers force the victims to carry drugs such as meth to foreign nations. One kilogram of meth costs US$8,000 in Southeast Asia, while it costs US$ 242,000 in East Asia. The amount is much higher when it is transported to European countries and the US.
Smuggling of illegal migrants from North Africa
An overall estimate of smuggling of migrants into, through and from North Africa has not yet been made. Research reports at the country level do not present precise data with regard to migrant smuggling. Little is known about the proportion of irregular migrants using smuggling services. In a survey carried out in Morocco, 87 per cent of sub-Saharan migrants arriving in that country were reported to have used the services of smugglers.
Air routes form a high-cost segment of the market of services for irregular migrants. Much more expensive and safer than journeys by land and sea, air travel is recorded and studied much less in the literature. Generally, little information has been collected on journeys by air because migrants pass unnoticed at border controls. The international airports of Algeria, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and Morocco can be destination points for hundreds of irregular migrants per year, wherefrom they proceed towards European destinations and the US.
Some of the air routes used have been detected. For example, according to information collected by ICMPD (2007, 2008), Cairo has been used as a transit airport for asylum-seekers flying from the Horn of Africa directly to European countries, to Germany in particular, while Italian studies show that the Casablanca-Tripoli flight is frequently used by a network of Moroccan smugglers to move migrants to the embarkation points in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.
However, recourse to air passage is not very frequent for smuggling from North African countries to the Mediterranean area and irregular flows from Asia usually transit in West or East African airports rather than in North African countries. In addition, direct flights from North African cities with fraudulent documents (passport or visa) are not considered a usual way to enter Europe irregularly.
Greece is a country of destination for migrants of different nationalities passing through Turkey by sea, landing mainly on the islands of Chios, Lesbos and Samos. According to Antonopoulos and Winterdyk, 10 per cent of irregular migrants entering Greece came by sea routes.
Currently these flows are increasing sharply and changes in the ethnic composition of migrants indicate the development of new routes, especially from Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa. As noted by researchers, data on arrests at maritime borders in Greece should be treated with caution because some arrests were made on Greek island soil; according to the Greek authorities, arrests totaled 9,049 in 2006, 9,240 in 2007 and 5,332 in the first half of 2008. In 2008, more than 15,000 migrants arriving by sea were intercepted in Greece, according to data published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The overwhelming majority of unauthorized migrants travelling to Italy by sea depart from North African countries, especially the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. However, from the early 1990s until 2002, most irregular travel originated in Albania, Malta, Turkey and non-Mediterranean countries.
Monzini (2004) has considered the evolution of flows of migrants by sea coming directly from the Indian subcontinent, the Black Sea, the Balkans and North Africa in the last 20 years and the gradual decline of these routes. Table 1 shows the increase in landings in Sardinia and Sicily and the total of landings in all of Italy. It is important to note that Sardinia and Sicily are the two regions of Italy where the maritime routes from North Africa end.
Until 2005 Malta was an important point of arrival and departure for migrants wishing to enter Europe. Mainwaring (2008) examines the archipelago of Malta as an area of destination and transit on the trans-Mediterranean migration routes. In the late 1990s and up to the beginning of the 2000s, before Malta joined the European Union, the archipelago had been a hub for North African routes and even an intercontinental hub for smuggling from Asia: migrants arrived by air and in two hours were transported in rubber dinghies to southern Sicily by local smuggler organizations.
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