Human trafficking: How close to us is it?

Human trafficking: How close to us is it?

 

Human trafficking seems like a crime away from our reality. But, the truth is, it is so close that we often cannot see it.

Although there are people more vulnerable to this crime than others, human trafficking can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, economic status, level of education, inside or outside their country. Victims of trafficking are as varied as the forms the crime can take: labor exploitation, sexual exploitation, forced begging or forced crimes. Human trafficking can be present in all sectors.

People in organizations that deal with human trafficking cases painfully discover how human rights are violated in different regions and countries. One of the people working in this area is Dayan Corrales, Technical Assistance and Protection Specialist at the IOM Regional Office for Central America, North America and the Caribbean. Dayan supports the assistance of trafficking cases firsthand, and has met many people who have been victims of this crime. She shared the following story:

Ana* was a young, professional woman, who had university studies and a great job profile. She was living in a country in Central America when a company in another continent contacted her through her social networks, showing interest in hiring her. It was a consolidated company, with a good profile and offices in different countries.

The first thing Ana did after receiving the offer was to carry out an investigation on the internet about the company. After verifying that everything seemed to be in order, she sent her curriculum. She had several interviews in English with the people who wanted to hire her, and when she was told she was the selected candidate, she decided to travel to the other side of the world for her new job.

Ana was excited by the prospect of being able to work abroad. Who doesn't dream of working in a foreign country? She would get to see new things, advance her career and open doors for her future.

A few weeks later, she undertook the trip. Upon arriving in the new country, a car from the company was waiting for her at the airport, with the logos of the office on the sides. A person from the company was holding a sign with her name, welcoming her.

Upon arrival at the hotel, this person asked for her passport to complete the necessary procedures to start work the next day. He told Ana that he would pick her up the next morning to take her to the office and start technical training. She handed over her documents and eagerly went up to her room where she took a bath, drank a coffee and waited for the next day.

Just as promised, they picked her up at the hotel in the same car, but to her surprise the final destination was not what she expected. When she got out of the car, she was not in front of a company, but in front of a bar. The next three months of her life would be a nightmare.

Ana was sexually exploited at the bar, being the victim of all kinds of abuse and violence. They beat her and raped her regularly. She had strict meal and work schedules ... All the forms of violence that we are terrrified to imagine were a part of her reality.

But how was she going to escape? She was in a strange country with a foreign language, without her identification documents and with no one to contact to help her. In addition, her exploiters extorted her with all the information they had about her. After all, they knew where she lived, and who her friends and family were through their social networks. They told her that if she tried to escape, they would kill her and her loved ones.

After three months of abuse, Ana could no longer stand it. She felt that her life had been stolen. If she escaped, she was at risk of being killed, but she already felt dead. So one day she took the risk and in an oversight she managed to escape. She was finally able to free herself from that nightmare and get help to return to her country and resume her life as it was before.

Ana's story is harrowing, but it is also necessary to know. Not only does it teach us that anyone can be a victim of trafficking, but it also helps us identify some warning signs:

  • Be careful with offers that seem perfect or too good to be true.
  • Deception is one of the most common means used to attract victims of human trafficking.
  • The use of power is also a highly used means of controlling victims, involving the use of force, threats or other forms of coercion.

*The name has been changed to protect the person involved

 


Extortion is Causing the Expulsion of Migrants from the Northern Triangle of Central America

Extortion is Causing the Expulsion of Migrants from the Northern Triangle of Central America
Categoria: Migrant Protection and Assistance
Autor: Guest Contributor

In cases of forced displacement, extortion is often mentioned as one of the main causes. However, extortion is located within a cycle of violence, such sexual violence, murder, etc., and it is difficult to identify a single incident of extortion as the sole reason for leaving a country.

Although its definition varies depending on national legislation, extortion can be understood as the use of threats, intimidation and other acts of violence to obtain actions or goods from another person against their will, as defined by the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Environmental Funds (REDLAC), in a special bulletin dedicated to this issue and upon which this post is based.

In the context of migration, kidnapping and extortion go hand-in-hand, as smugglers often extort money from migrants by threatening to kidnap their relatives. Extortion can also be committed in the other direction: relatives of migrants who have already arrived in another country are extorted by smugglers, demanding money from them so as not to harm the family member who has already migrated. This can often lead to persecution in communities of origin and destination.

In Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the serious issue of personal insecurity fuelled by drug trafficking and corruption has marked the region as one of the most violent on the planet, according to Amnesty International. In this context, extortion schemes demanding payments from local markets and small businesses are commonplace in gang-controlled territories. However, depending on the country, there can also be extortion demands  placed on homes, such as in Guatemala, where this accounts for 55% of extortion complaints.

There is also a difference between the type and impact of extortion experienced by men, women, children and the LGBTIQ+ population. In this sense, when women are extorted for money, threats are often combined with the intimidating possibility of sexual violence. According to the REDLAC bulletin, the bodies of women, adolescents, and girls are treated as territory for revenge and control while children are being increasingly recruited as rent collectors, among other functions.

Migrants are often also extorted by people who are not part of criminal groups but who take advantage of their vulnerable situation to turn a profit, such as locals who demand payment to cross private land rather than using routes with criminal gangs, or transporters who demand money from irregular migrants in exchange for not reporting them to immigration authorities. The same situation has been reported with employers who, on pay-day, threaten to report migrant workers for an irregular migrant status.

There are currently no figures on the number of people displaced or forced to migrate due to extortion in northern Central America, as this is part of a generalised climate of violence; however, some organisations locate this crime as one of the main reasons for migration from areas or even from the country.

 

Extortion during the pandemic

In the bulletin of the Network of Latin American and Caribbean Environmental Funds (REDLAC) which examines extortion as a trigger for internal displacement and forced migration in northern Central America and Mexico, some relevant points were also made about how extortion has adapted to the context of COVID-19:

  • In El Salvador, COVID-19 has reduced the income of gangs, but they have not lost territorial control. Some gangs have established restrictions, such as allowing one individual per family to make food purchases, to reduce the risk that a gang member may become ill and not be able to access medical care.
  • In Honduras, the paralysis of the transportation and informal trade sectors, generally common sectors for extortion, has registered a decrease in cases of extortion due to the pandemic. However, there have been reports of threats of retroactive charges once commerce resumes, house-to-house tariffs, and road ‘tolls’, and scams executed by gangs. Food distributors are frequent victims of extortion when entering communities.
  • In Guatemala, extortion has not stopped either, although at the beginning of the pandemic some maras (gangs) granted ‘pardons’ in their communities. However, national agencies predict that when the restrictive measures end, there will be an increase in other crimes and that extortion will return as a greater threat.
  • Mobility restrictions increase the risk of people being trapped in violent environments, making it difficult to seek support in other territories and countries. Despite this, many people seek and will continue to seek irregular migration options, despite the dangers of the pandemic, in order to leave the high-violence, low-income contexts in which they live.