When human trafficking adapts to the pandemic

When human trafficking adapts/reacts to the pandemic

As reported by the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, human trafficking networks, as with other criminal groups, take advantage of people's vulnerability during a humanitarian crisis, such as COVID-19. According to their policy brief, trafficking networks can tailor their operations to capitalize on the socio-economic impact of the pandemic. UNODC also warns that these adjustments in its "business model" are often possible through the abuse of technological tools.

According to data from the aforementioned Global Initiative, these are some of the changes that trafficking networks have experienced during the pandemic:

Increase in online recruitment: cyber-sex trafficking networks on the dark web discuss in closed forums how they have now the possibility to exploit many more children and adolescents, as they spend much more time locked up at home and using the internet due to the closure of schools.

However, capturing potential victims online can also allow criminals to be tracked in some cases, especially given the lack of adequate technical knowledge of criminals to "hijack data", or ransomware, according to Europol.

Possible increase in the cyber-sex demand of minors: In addition to this, trafficking networks see the possibility of attracting the attention of many more people who are interested in material with sexual content, including related to minors. Likewise, since many of the online websites on child sexual exploitation material (CSEM) require memberships that include sharing content of this type, there is more material on child pornography and exploitation circulating. The Global Initiative denounces that this implies a vicious circle where supply and demand increases and where the sexual predators that started their activity during the pandemic are likely to continue once it ends.

Possible less control of the authorities / attention of organizations: Due to the need to focus on other types of situations in the context of the pandemic, the police and other law enforcement authorities may be temporarily unable to follow up on all cases. Non-governmental organizations that provide support in trafficking cases may also have fewer resources or are concentrating their efforts on assisting the COVID-19 socio-sanitary emergency.

Increase in drug-related exploitation: According to the Global Initiative, an example can be traced in marijuana production farms, where as there is greater demand from the market, people who work in slavery conditions are further exploited or in more severe conditions of servitude. It has also been observed that, despite restrictions on mobility, trafficking networks have managed to traffic or mobilize migrants by increasing the price.

Changes in the type of exploitation of the victims who are already captured: As the demand for products and services has changed, some types of exploitation may experience losses in their earnings, such as those that exploit people with forced labor in construction and textiles , or even child labor exploitation. In these cases, traffickers force their victims to work on other tasks that are in greater demand, such as forced labor in agriculture or the sexual exploitation of minors online.

It has also been noticed how, in the context of the pandemic, businesses or companies that previously were not carrying out exploitative practices with their workers, resort to constant dismissal threats, which puts employees in a vulnerable situation, including, for example, the acceptance of new unfavorable conditions: longer hours, less pay, etc.,

Increase of extraordinary offers to people in vulnerable conditions: Given the loss of economic income, many traffickers offers "life-saving" alternatives to alleviate their situation. That means recruitment for informal work, servitude, sex work and even ending up joining to the same network as criminals. To learn more about how people's vulnerability to trafficking is increasing during the pandemic, we invite you to read this blog.

The COVID-19 outbreak has forced States, international cooperation organizations and authorities in general to rethink the way in which social problems, triggered by sanitary measures, are addressed,  including restrictions on mobility. It is necessary to study in depth the changes in the behaviour of criminal networks in order to consider new prevention and assistance measures for victims according to the specific features that crimes is taking on in the context of the pandemic.


In a distant country, Erick daydreams - #MigrantsDay

In a distant country, Erick daydreams - #MigrantsDay
Categoria: Return and Reintegration
Autor: Laura Manzi

Story based on the testimony of Erick Galeas, a returnee.

The outbound journey

The heat was suffocating, as if the breaths of fresh air had forgotten that point in the world, where an immense dryness permeated every corner. The ground burned, the sun gave no truce. And this was no small matter: Erick hated the heat, which only made him feel tired and weak.

On those long days with his skin so exposed to the sun, he would try to find some place in the shade to relax for a little while, alone with his thoughts. It may seem absurd, but at that moment, instead of worrying and being overcome by fear and agitation due to the long-awaited trip, the only thing he could think of was that sweater that he intended to buy once arrived in the United States. He wanted to live in a cold place, this was clear to him, to buy a lot of coats and scarves, and to have frozen hands. Wasn't that part of the American dream too? To be able to escape that dryness and have a closet full of sweaters?

The city of Tijuana, in Mexico, served as the setting for Erick's mental wanderings. It had been also his temporary residence for almost a month. Residence, not home. Erick had been living far away from home for nine months, since he left Honduras and began his journey: one day in Guatemala, one month in Chiapas, six months in Veracruz, then Ciudad Juárez and now there, Tijuana. Nine long months treasuring the desire to be able to find better economic opportunities and support his family that he left behind, which was enthusiastic about the idea of being able to receive some remittances.

To fight for his wish, Erick had to pay for his trip by working, doing whatever job he could find, often up to sixteen hours a day for a paltry salary. But that was not a time to be discouraged, because the next day Erick was going to cross the Mexican border into the United States, after having paid 7 thousand dollars  to a smuggler who promised to finally take him to his destination. This is how Erick's last trip to the north began: early in the morning, on any given Tuesday.

You may have noticed that Erick's imagination led him to daydreaming very often, and at the beginning of his journey, after months of malnutrition, he was wondering what his first meal in the US would have tasted like. Surely it would have been the most delicious meal of the last nine months, a meal that tastes of success ... And then wham!, his reverie was suddenly interrupted. An immigration police officer instantly nullified all of Erick's efforts, who was arrested shortly after. But that was not the end of his journey; little did he know that he still had six months to spend in detention: first in California, then in Arizona, Ohio, Louisiana, and Michigan. In his fantasy there were no police officers or detainees; however, this was the only image that Erick could capture from the United States.

How angry he felt when the comments of people who said "it is easy to get to the United States" and "it is a matter of one, maximum two weeks" came to mind. The lack of truthful and adequate information had been an accomplice to his misadventure. Erick was tired, disappointed, and alone. He was also afraid, because in the detention centers there were not only migrants seeking a better life, but also some common criminals who intimidated others, exacerbating their feelings of discomfort. For Erick, the only chance for peace was those few minutes of calls that he could share with his family. He told them that he was afraid that the US authorities would deport him to Honduras, and on the 175th day of his arrest, that was precisely what happened.

The return journey 

A bittersweet taste marked Erick's return. Not being able to fulfill his long-awaited American dream made him feel frustrated, almost ashamed and humiliated. His overwhelming sense of failure disappeared for a moment when, after almost a year and a half, he could finally hug his son. "Children grow up so fast," Erick thought. But the little boy was not the only one who had grown up in all that time; Erick had also gone through an enormous process of personal growth, and he had acquired an incredible strength.

Oh, and there was also the Honduran food. That really made his return happy!

It was not easy, it was not quick, but after a long path, on a day like today we can imagine Erick dealing with his daily tasks at his handicraft company in Honduras. His small family-run atelier became a company that sells its products nationwide: souvenir-type crafts that include a large sample of boats, helicopters and airplanes, all made of wood. It is a business that allows him and his family to live with better economic conditions than when Erick decided to venture to the United States.

His work activity was also able to flourish thanks to the help of the IOM (International Organization for Migration), which provided him with the necessary machinery for his work, and also to the CASM (Mennonite Social Action Commission), whose course on entrepreneurship strengthened Erick's management skills. The feeling of frustration that he experienced when he returned to Honduras has been transformed step by step into a feeling of satisfaction and happiness a he saw his business growing and gained greater confidence in himself, in his talent and ability. The training courses and the support provided helped him through a difficult process of return and reintegration, and empowered the young migrant on his return home.

Erick was able to build his economic subsistence and his professional fulfillment in Honduras, and among so many complex and unfortunate stories, this is a story with a happy ending. Even so, from time to time, he cannot help but daydream, thinking about what it would be like to travel to the United States again, this time legally, and stay there, even just for one day: to eat at a different restaurant and buy a thick winter sweater.