Why has the vulnerability of victims of human trafficking increased during COVID-19?

Why has the vulnerability of victims of human trafficking increased during COVID-19?

Human trafficking exists before, during and after crises such as COVID-19. However, during a crisis there are factors that increase the vulnerability of some groups of people to potential traffickers, such as limited access to services, loss of employment, and reduction of working hours. These situations can place people in settings where their needs and that of their families may be compromised. At the same time, a crisis can also aggravate the situations of those who are already victims of trafficking.

In this situation, the Global Protection Cluster details a series of reasons why a health crisis such as the novel coronavirus COVID-19 can put people at risk of human trafficking who previously had a low risk of becoming victims, as well as exacerbate the risk of those who were already vulnerable to this type of crime:

  • Because traffickers will take advantage of the context: COVID-19 has meant changes and restrictions associated with the mobility of people, and many people have also been exposed to the total or partial loss of their jobs. Concern about meeting their basic needs can make it easier for people to fall into trafficking networks.
  • Because internal displacement may increase: In search of access to services and food, in some places it is possible that internal displacement will increase, and with it, the vulnerability of those who are far from home and looking to meet their own basic needs and those of their relatives, depending on individual cases.
  • Because girls and boys may be more exposed if there are disruptions in education services or separation from caregivers: Given the health and economic uncertainty, minors may face disruptions of education services or their caregivers may fall ill and they may be left unattended, making them an easy target for trafficking, particularly through the false promise of employment and education.
  • Because forms of exploitation used by traffickers may change: For example, people who were previously sexually exploited in physical or public places may now be exploited online or in private homes.
  • Because victims may be unable to access information about COVID-19: In the case of people who are currently victims of exploitation, they are likely to be physically confined or unable to escape their situation. As result they will have less timely access to information, support and services related to the pandemic, making them more vulnerable to it.
  • Because a lack of profit can increase violence: The potential loss of financial gains from traffickers can mean even worse treatment for their victims.
  • Because they cannot practice social distancing: Trafficked persons may have no ability to self-isolate or socially distance themselves from others, especially if they are forced to provide sexual services or labour.
  • Because they often do not have documentation and this hinders access to services: Often, a person’s identification or passport is retained by the traffickers, which hinders their access to health services, and leaves them vulnerable to abuse, detention and re-victimization by the authorities enforcing quarantines and managing checkpoints who have strengthened control measures during the pandemic.
  • Because victims are not in an optimal state of health: Many trafficked persons experience grave forms of mistreatment, including rape, forced labour, physical beatings, torture, starvation, psychological abuse, and the deprivation of medical treatment, which weaken the health of victims of trafficking, which can make them more vulnerable to severe infections, such as COVID-19.
  • Because human and economic resources can be allocated elsewhere during the pandemic: Funds designated for the legal, police and psychological help that victims of trafficking require, as well as funds designated to fight this crime may be redirected to help alleviate the effects of the pandemic, momentarily leaving trafficking victims with less protection.

The response to the specific needs of victims of trafficking during a crisis such as COVID-19 requires the joint work of authorities to help identify the profiles of traffickers, implement actions with a gender perspective, and strengthen relations with communities. For more information on assistance for this population, we recommend consulting the Key Actions for Protection Actors included in the GPC document  ‘COVID-19 Pandemic Trafficking in Persons (TIP) considerations in internal displacement contexts March 2020’


7 recommendations to promote the inclusion of migrants in host communities through social and cultural activities.

Categoria: Pacto Mundial sobre Migración
Autor: Carlos Escobar

The promotion of social and cultural activities as a mechanism to encourage interaction between migrants and host communities with the aim of advancing in the construction of more just and peaceful societies, is currently a topic of special interest in studies, policies and programs on migrant inclusion and social cohesion.

Taking Intergroup Contact Theory (IGCT) as a reference, different researches argue that the interaction of people from different places and contexts, under the right circumstances, favors trust and the change of xenophobic or discriminatory perceptions. Thus, intergovernmental agreements such as the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration have integrated this perspective into their theoretical and conceptual body. In particular, Goal 16 "Empower migrants and societies to achieve full inclusion and social cohesion", calls for the creation of community centres or programs at the local level to facilitate the participation of migrants in the receiving society by engaging migrants, community members, diaspora organizations, migrant associations and local authorities in intercultural dialogue, exchange of experiences, mentoring programs and the creation of business linkages that enhance integration outcomes and foster mutual respect.

Based on the analysis and review of different research, the IOM, in its publication The Power of Contact: Designing, Facilitating and Evaluating Social Mixing Activities to Strengthen Migrant Integration and Social Cohesion Between Migrants and Local Communities – A Review of Lessons Learned, proposes a series of recommendations, based on empirical evidence, to encourage the participation of migrants and receiving communities in social and cultural activities.

1). Fun and goal-oriented

Designing and incorporating fun and exciting activities leads to a lighter and more welcoming environment for people to meet, interact and create social bonds. At the same time, setting common goals, which neither group can achieve without the participation of the other (cooperative interdependence), makes the activities more engaging and participatory.

2). Mutual appreciation

Participants should understand, recognize and appreciate culture, traditions and history as part of the process of bridging differences, maximizing each other's strengths and identifying commonalities. It is important that all individuals are able to identify how their contributions can have a positive impact on the achievement of common goals.

3). Shared ownership

Involving migrants and local communities in all phases of activities will increase their participation. This ownership empowers them, raises their self-esteem and opens up new opportunities for responsibility and commitment.

4). Guided Reflection

Dialogues and activities that allow for a certain degree of reflection help to create an atmosphere that is perceived as trusting, friendly and warm. Processing information and sharing personal and sensitive stories, which can evoke memories, are of utmost importance as long as they are carefully guided and accompanied by facilitators or project members.

5). Supervision and Trust Facilitation

Those responsible for group interactions, such as team leaders, facilitators, project staff or event planners, must play an active role in promoting equality within intergroup relations and creating an inclusive environment for all. This deliberate effort is crucial to overcome the natural tendency of participants to group themselves according to their most salient characteristics and status.

6). Sustained and regular intervention

It goes without saying that the more frequent, prolonged and intensive the participation, the better the attitude of each individual towards others. This means adopting an approach that rethinks the role of the people involved, who in turn will define the needs of their communities and ultimately take part in the design and organization of appropriate interventions.

7). Institutional support and partnership

The support of institutions such as local governments, media, government agencies and intermediary organizations is critical to promoting and facilitating constructive efforts to strengthen intergroup relations. The coordination of these institutions creates a system that can provide resources and incentives to promote and strengthen intergroup relations.

Social and cultural activities, understood as a programmatic intervention strategy to facilitate the inclusion of migrants in receiving communities, are important to the extent that they offer non-institutional spaces for interaction, where through spontaneous human contact, social ties are built based on experiences, stories, emotions and life trajectories of the participants. This facilitates the generation of trust between individuals, greater degrees of social cohesion and, of course, peaceful coexistence in communities, understood not only as the absence of conflict, but also as a positive, dynamic and participatory process in which dialogue is promoted and conflicts are resolved in a spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation, through the acceptance of differences, the ability to listen, recognize, respect and appreciate others. (UN, 2021).