Thematic focus: Trafficking

In the current migration situation, people arriving are exposed to particular protection risks, as FRA’s regular updates have consistently documented. They are also exposed to trafficking in human beings. As smuggling networks raise the prices for people’s journeys, the risks of exploitation upon arrival in the EU are further increasing.

While an increase in victims of human trafficking is reported or expected in some EU Member States, identification is generally difficult. Victims who are not formally recognised as such have only limited access to justice and other fundamental rights. FRA has found different practices in five areas that are crucial for prevention and protection in the context of human trafficking.

  1. Identification procedures: such procedures are mainly initiated as part of asylum or child protection procedures and formalised to different extents; constraints commonly relate to human resources; only some EU Member States use the initial health check for identifying trafficking victims.
  2. Attention to vulnerabilities: safeguards are not always provided and when available generally focus on children; in transit situations, attention to vulnerable groups is limited.
  3. Cooperation with support organisations: some Member States proactively involve non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in identification procedures allowing them to approach victims first; in other cases, NGOs report access difficulties; NGO assistance is often insufficient or not formally regulated.
  4. Guidance and training: not all EU Member States provide regular training or specific guidance to staff who are likely to be in contact with trafficking victims; EASO and Frontex tools are seldom used.
  5. Information on risks and support measures: information material is available at registration and reception in most but not all Member States; it is often provided in cooperation with support organisations.

Article 5 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union prohibits slavery, forced labour and trafficking. The EU Anti-Trafficking Directive (2011/36/EU) obliges Member States to support persons as soon as there are reasonable grounds indicating that the person might have been subjected to human trafficking (Article 11.2). It also obliges Member States to establish early identification and assistance mechanisms for this purpose in cooperation with relevant support organisations (Article 11.4). Special safeguards exist for possible child victims of trafficking (see also FRA thematic focus on children) and for the reception needs of asylum-seeking trafficking victims (Article 22 of the Reception Conditions Directive (2013/33/EU). All officials who are likely to come into contact with potential victims of trafficking should be regularly trained (Article 18.3 of the Anti-Trafficking Directive).

Trafficking in human beings is different from the smuggling of migrants. Trafficked migrants are further exploited in coercive or inhuman conditions after having crossed the border. People are trafficked for the purpose of sexual and labour exploitation, the removal of organs or other exploitative purposes. Women and children are particularly affected. Children are also trafficked to be exploited for begging or illegal activities, such as petty theft. Persons are trafficked by means of coercion or deception, whereas persons who are smuggled usually consent to being smuggled.

In its April monthly report covering March 2016, FRA reported a significant increase in proceedings against trafficking and smuggling in some Member States. The table below shows the overall numbers of proceedings initiated in three EU Member States for trafficking as well as smuggling. Definitions in criminal law, however, differ substantially in both cases and figures are not comparable between Member States.

Table: Proceedings launched for trafficking and smuggling, 1 January-30 April 2016

Member State Trafficking in human beings Smuggling of migrants
BG 54 150
HU 4 85
SE 1 27

Yet, the real prevalence of trafficking can be expected to be much higher. In Sweden, for example, proceedings were launched in only one of 44 cases of suspected trafficking reported to the police. A possible reason for this is that the police charge traffickers for more easily prosecutable crimes, such as smuggling of migrants or exploitation for prostitution, as reported also from Italy. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has noted a continuing upward trend in the arrival of Nigerian women and girls in Italy claiming to travel alone. A large proportion of them is identified as victims of trafficking; though, most do not wish to reveal their trafficking background or benefit from protection, at least initially.

The prevalence of smuggling is also higher than the number of proceedings might indicate. This may partly be due to the fact that the police prioritises expulsion over prosecution, as reported from Sweden, particularly in times of many arrivals.

Depending on the EU Member State, payment may or may not be a criterion for prosecution of smuggling. In Bulgaria, for example, payment is a criterion for prosecuting the facilitation of illegal stay or transit (109 proceedings), but not for prosecuting facilitation of irregular entry (41 proceedings), which may explain the relatively high figures of proceedings for smuggling of migrants.

Most Member States do not prosecute persons who provide help for humanitarian reasons although there are some exceptions. In Germany, for example, providing help for humanitarian reasons may be punishable if a pecuniary advantage is given or promised in return; however, the law is applied only in the case of organised smuggling, and jurisprudence exempts help by medical staff, teachers, counsellors or private persons. In Slovenia, the situation is unclear due to a lack of jurisprudence.

FRA report on severe labour exploitation

In its report on severe labour exploitation, FRA found that among the key risk factors for severe labour exploitation is the low risk of prosecution, a lack of effective monitoring, the low risk of having to compensate the worker, difficulties in communication, and extreme poverty.

Key reasons for why victims are not reporting to the police are fear of being jobless or of having to leave the country, as well as a low rights awareness.

Identification procedures

Victims of trafficking in human beings rarely report to the police. Before the exploitation materialises, they may not even be aware of it. Vulnerabilities may go unnoticed or identification may be delayed, and possible victims may first be transferred to standard reception facilities before their special situation is detected and targeted support is provided to them.

In the context of the current migration situation, common difficulties to identify victims of human trafficking relate to limited human resources, insufficient training, limited access by NGO partners to reception and detention centres, backlogs in registration as well as time constraints during registration, particularly in countries of first arrival and transit countries.

Most EU Member States covered by this report have set up mechanisms for early identification, in line with Article 11(4) of the Anti-Trafficking Directive, though mainly in connection with asylum or child protection procedures, as the following examples illustrate.

The first interview with asylum seekers, particularly women, at basic care centres in Austria, for example, always addresses the issue of trafficking in human beings so as to see if applicants need special support as required by Article 17 of the Reception Conditions Directive. Female staff is available for this task. Possible victims are accommodated in a women’s shelter in the first reception centre Traiskirchen. Female psychologists, who may be consulted twice a week, may also assist with identifying victims.

In Italy, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) supports the authorities in identifying victims of trafficking among new arrivals. Disembarkation facilities in Italy are generally unsuitable for identification purposes as they offer insufficient privacy and safety, particularly when victims arrive together with their traffickers. The main constraint is the limited amount of time available upon arrival for establishing trust with the victims. The presence of cultural mediators from the same geographical background as the victims has been a positive factor increasing the willingness of women to report information on their trafficking background. If a victim is identified during disembarkation, IOM contacts the competent Prefecture to ensure immediate separation and transfer to a reception centre. IOM interviews female victims for a second time at the receptions centres, assessing the need to refer them to a specialised protection facility.

In Germany, identification procedures vary depending on the federal state (Land) responsible for registration and reception. Continuous restructuring and recruitment of new staff at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees may make it difficult to ensure that specially trained staff are available.

In Slovenia, identification takes place primarily at registration and detention, and less so at reception facilities. In Bulgaria, the State Agency for Refugees plans to formalise identification procedures at first registration.

Three of the Member States covered in this report systematically use the initial health check upon arrival for identification purposes: In Austria, Bulgaria and Croatia, healthcare staff pay special attention to possible signs of human trafficking based on training and/or guidance provided to them. In Greece, healthcare professionals are increasingly being trained on trafficking in human beings, however, there are still concerns, particularly at entry points, that healthcare staff may not notice possible victims. In Germany, identification by healthcare staff depends on the local/regional networks. In Sweden, the screening for trafficking signs is not mentioned in any of the regulations concerning healthcare staff, and asylum seekers may have to wait for their health check for up to one year in some county councils/regions.

Attention to vulnerabilities

The Anti-Trafficking Directive has specific safeguards for people with special needs. The Reception Conditions Directive, which applies to asylum seekers, also requires that attention is given to vulnerable people (Articles 17 (2), 18 (3) and 21).

Reception conditions for children must be appropriate to their needs. Procedural safeguards include the appointment of a guardian and an individual assessment of the circumstances of each child victim in order to safeguard the child’s best interests (Article 14 (2) of the Anti-Trafficking Directive).

FRA Handbook on guardianship for children deprived of parental care – child victims of trafficking

The handbook provides guidance on key features and standards of guardianship systems, underlining the importance of guardians and legal representatives in preventing and responding to child abuse and exploitation, and in protecting and assisting child victims of trafficking.

Assistance must also be gender-specific and consider the special needs of victims, in particular deriving from pregnancy, health conditions, a disability, a mental or psychological disorder or a serious form of psychological, physical or sexual violence (Article 11 (7) of the Anti-Trafficking Directive).

In the nine Member States covered by this report, special safeguards are in place targeting primarily children and, to some degree, women.

Officials in Sweden are obliged to notify the social welfare committee on any suspicion of trafficking of a child, even if evidence is not clear. The obligation to notify is absolute in the sense that it is not up to the staff to decide whether it is a clear-cut case of trafficking. Difficulties in identifying child trafficking victims stem from a lack of human resources and the subsequent backlog in individual needs assessments that should be done for each child upon arrival at the municipality. These assessments frequently reveal past or ongoing exploitation. Due to the decrease in arrivals in the first four months of 2016, the municipalities have started to reduce this backlog. In view of the high risk of trafficking of unaccompanied children, the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) has developed guidelines (riktlinjer) and recommendations (råd) on this topic for the municipalities.

At the accommodation centres for unaccompanied children in Sweden, access to NGOs has been reduced to decrease the risk of unauthorised persons contacting children. Besides this measure, the Swedish Health and Social Care Inspectorate (Inspektionen för vård och omsorg) has not observed any specific safeguards or information material at these centres. According to the Inspectorate, the number of children placed at the centre, their whereabouts at night or contacts with unauthorised persons have been unknown at some accommodation centres.

In Germany, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees has specially trained case managers for children, victims of gender-based persecution as well as victims of torture, traumatised asylum seekers and victims of human trafficking. In their branch offices, however, the same officer is often responsible for all these vulnerable people. UNICEF supports the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth to improve the protection and identification of vulnerable children and women at reception centres.

Efforts to improve the identification of child victims of trafficking in Austria include focused training and cooperation between the police and child and youth authorities, as well as the Austrian Task Force Against Human Trafficking.

At the initial reception centres in Austria, there are separate houses for women and unaccompanied children. Support and care are generally provided 24/7. There is an information point. Psychologists are available for crisis interventions. Several security measures are in place at the initial reception centres where victims are placed: female staff, including female security staff, work there and access is refused to men; the police is present and there is video surveillance. In case of transfers, children below the age of 14 are always accompanied the entire way to their destination by staff. The initial reception centres have to report on a regular basis on the number of unaccompanied children present there.

Official reception facilities near registration points in Greece provide some measures, like child friendly spaces that are operated by trained personnel and that have been established in close cooperation with NGOs, such as Save the Children. These spaces aim at keeping children safe, as well as providing them with educational and leisure activities so they remain engaged. All major organisations working in the field, for example UNHCR and IOM, follow gender and child specific approaches. However, similar spaces and opportunities are very limited in unofficial settlements created ad hoc along the migration routes.

The authorities in Hungary take no preventive measures targeting particularly vulnerable groups, such as unaccompanied children and women. Due to a lack of human resources, family relations in a group cannot be identified and the authorities have to take the information provided to them at face value. According to the Office of Immigration and Nationality, parents often do not report the disappearance of their children to the reception centres, most likely because the stated family bonds are not real.

In Bulgaria, a coordination mechanism for referral and care for unaccompanied foreign children and foreign child victims of trafficking is being developed. No preventive measures are in place targeting trafficking risks among vulnerable groups. Prevention of trafficking is done as part of the general care work towards such groups.

When people were arriving in Croatia prior to the closing of the border, transit camps were constantly monitored, and the safety conditions were enhanced, for example, separating toilets for men and women. The Croatian Red Cross also put up posters for self-identification with information on victims’ rights and prepared materials to be used for training concerning children.

Cooperation with support organisations

In line with the Anti-Trafficking Directive (Article 11(4)), Member States cooperate with support organisations in different ways. NGOs usually provide general assistance and information on procedural rights in reception and detention centres.

At the pre-removal detention centre for women in Italy (Ponte Galeria, Rome), for example, the NGO Be Free informs female victims, mostly Nigerian girls, on protection measures. In some Members States, social service workers, medical staff, NGOs, IOM or UNHCR may also formally identify victims of human trafficking, in line with the national referral mechanism. In Croatia and Italy, specialised NGOs carry out the initial interview with potential victims.

With the exception of Germany and Sweden, all Member States covered in this report have set up a National Referral Mechanism, which determines the cooperation among all actors during the identification and referral of trafficking victims. In Sweden, responsibilities are built into the administrative system, and cooperation among the authorities is facilitated by the County Administrative Board of Stockholm and its National Methodology Support Team. In Germany, referrals are organised at Länder level, where in most cases, cooperation agreements between specialised counselling centres, police, federal level authorities (e.g. women affairs, social affairs) and other actors have been set up. Victims are referred to the counselling centres for support in legal and other issues. Asylum case officers are also instructed to inform a counselling centre in cases of trafficking, however, according to the experience of the counselling centres, this is not very often the case in practice. A majority of counselling centres for trafficking victims report a lack of regular access to reception and detention facilities, although their social workers often identify trafficking victims. They can reach potential victims only indirectly by offering training to the staff and volunteers working at the reception centres.

In Slovenia, NGOs are only present at reception or detention facilities when they are called in. In Hungary, only one NGO (Cordelia Foundation) assists traumatised people, including victims of trafficking.

Platform Sweden’s civil society against trafficking of human beings

More than 20 civil society organisations coordinate their work against human trafficking based on a common platform, ‘Sweden’s civil society against trafficking of human beings’ (Plattformen civila Sverige mot människohandel). Member organisations provide assistance in terms of identification, provision of information, accommodation, dialogue, legal counselling, interpretation, healthcare, education, employment and family contacts.

As part of a pilot project initiated in 2015, the member organisations finance the 30-day reflection period, during which the victims may decide whether to cooperate with the police.

Guidance and training

The Anti-Trafficking Directive requires the promotion of training for police, border guards, immigration officials, public prosecutors, lawyers, judiciary staff, labour inspectors, social, child and healthcare personnel, consular staff, and other public officials if they are likely to encounter victims of trafficking in their work (Article 25).

Training and guidance available in the nine Member States address general and specific issues related to human trafficking. The quality of the training could not be assessed, including its relevance, the target audience, or whether it is regular and/or mandatory. Only interviewees in Sweden (for this report) indicated that they will use the EASO tool for identifying vulnerable persons.

In some cases, indicators or manuals for identification and referral focus on specific groups, such as women or children (Bulgaria) or address specific actors such as healthcare or detention staff (Slovenia) or transit situations (Croatia). In Slovenia, police and border guards use Frontex material, such as the Trainer's Manual on Anti-trafficking and the Handbook on Risk Profiles, to identify victims. In Greece and Sweden, the International Labour Organization’s operational indicators for adult and child victims of trafficking for labour and sexual exploitation are used together with specific national guidelines for first level identification. In Sweden, this includes, for example, guidelines concerning unaccompanied children developed by the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) for social workers at municipal level. In a joint initiative, Austria, Italy, Greece and Romania have developed training material in the context of the AGIRE project on identifying and protecting children who are or might be trafficking victims. Italy further developed specific guidelines in its National Action Plan on this topic.

Training on human trafficking is usually included as part of broader training courses; a focus on specific trafficking issues may be addressed in special training courses, as recently done in Austria for staff taking care of Afghan children.

The training generally addresses registration and reception staff whereas information on training available to staff in detention facilities is limited. No regular training takes place in Germany nor do guidelines or codes of conduct exist to allow for a systematic identification by staff at reception centres, according to the counselling centres for trafficking victims.

Information on risks and support measures

The Anti-Trafficking Directive obliges EU Member States to make information available on the risks of trafficking, as a preventive measure (Article 19(2)), and to inform victims of trafficking of support measures available to them (Article 11(5) and (6)).

Most of the nine Member States provide information on trafficking risks in the form of posters and flyers that are made available at registration and reception facilities. Distribution of material in pre-removal detention may be more difficult due to access restrictions, as reported, for example, in Germany, or restrictions to hand out information, as reported in Austria. In Germany, information at registration and reception varies depending on whether or not counselling centres for trafficking victims are present.

At least three Member States operate a national 24/7 hotline for victims of trafficking (Austria, Italy and Sweden). In Italy, the phone service is provided in several languages and has proven to facilitate the contacts between victims and reception and support services. Furthermore, as a preventive action, efforts are made to inform possible victims early on before trafficking begins.

No special posters or handouts are available at registration or reception facilities in Sweden nor at accommodation centres for unaccompanied children. One flyer was developed as part of an EU project especially targeting Nigerian women, who are victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation in a number of EU countries. Some older material remains available on the web in Sweden, for example Safe Trip, an information campaign launched in 2010 that especially targeted women who were potential victims of human trafficking. A short information card for unaccompanied children is currently being developed.

Possible trafficking victims in Bulgaria are informed only orally upon registration and reception. Also, victims receive most of the information orally considering that they might have to hide any information material. According to the National Referral Mechanism, this should include information on the crime of trafficking, victim rights, the right to keep the situation of trafficking secret from other people, the possibilities to receive support, the places where victims can turn for support in their home country/town, and the existing legislation they can make use of.

The National Commission for Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings (NCCTHB) in Bulgaria is planning a campaign, including a short film, showing the risks of trafficking.

In Greece, handouts are provided with information on protection and support services. For instance, PRAKSIS has distributed a comprehensive guide for migrants that provides relevant information in different languages.

In Croatia, during the period of arrivals until March 2016, the Red Cross placed posters in places with good visibility at transit camps and reception centres for asylum applicants and organised several information sessions for international protection applicants regarding potential risks and their rights.

In Slovenia, the police has handed out a leaflet on human trafficking, translated into several languages. In preparation of an asylum request, the Legal Information Centre of NGOs (Pravnoinformacijski center nevladnih organizacij, PIC) has provided information on human trafficking. Especially vulnerable applicants have been informed by the Institute of African Studies (Inštitut za afriške študije) on human trafficking, sexual violence and gender violence.

In Hungary, the police distributes flyers prepared by IOM on victim support at registration. However, the Office of Immigration and Nationality does not have flyers or information leaflets about human trafficking, so they can only inform those who turn to them with specific questions, which is generally unlikely since Hungary is considered a transit country and not a destination country for human trafficking.

The provision of information to possible victims of trafficking prior to any formal identification differs greatly among the nine Member States covered in this report. The information varies in content, level of detail, form and time when the persons concerned receive it. It is particularly relevant to provide this information for prevention purposes at an early stage in view of the increased risks upon arrival.


Monthly data collection on migration situation - May 2016

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Monthly data collection on migration situation - May 2016 - Highlights

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