World Day Against Trafficking in Persons 2022: Use and Abuse of Technology

This year’s theme for World Day Against Trafficking in Persons is the use and abuse of technology, focusing on the role of technology as a tool that can both enable and counter human trafficking. For over twenty years, the NEXUS Institute has been innovating the application and adaptation of methods for the collection, analysis, and presentation of new knowledge about trafficking in persons, including the role of technology in anti-trafficking work. For this year’s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, we would like to highlight the following topics and publications:

Technology and TIP Data Collection

There exist an increasing number of technology options that can support or enhance data collection on trafficking in persons (TIP). Relationships to technology differ substantially across the world, including within communities and cultures. Our global study of good practice in TIP data collection found that the use of technology in TIP data collection needs to be case-by-case and aligned with the users, including data sources, data providers, and data collectors.

We conducted interviews with 128 key informants representing nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), research projects, academic institutions, international organizations (IOs), private sector actors, and government, and found that technology as a tool for data collection must be assessed and weighed in terms of any limitations its use may pose, including in relation to a specific context and different data collectors, data providers, and data sources. This also requires considering any possible ethical issues or risks that may arise with the use of the technology. A review of relevant legislation is needed to ensure that any use of technology is legal and affords adequate data protection.

Technology and Trafficking Victim Identification

Our work on improving the identification of trafficking victims has documented the use of technology to identify trafficking victims, such as mobile applications being used to screen for trafficking in Asia, and as a means to overcome geographical and practical barriers to identification.

Our research has also found that identification is very difficult when trafficking occurs in crisis or conflict settings. Forms of exploitation in crises often differ from established patterns, making it difficult to screen victims with existing tools and procedures. In mass migration flows, for instance, typical indicators and signals of trafficking are of variable relevance in identifying trafficked migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees. Screening and identification with this specific population of trafficking victims requires the development of specific tools, which do not generally exist. This could be an opportunity for technology to play a positive role.


Technology and Trafficking Victim Protection

The NEXUS Institute has pioneered the development of Directories of Services for Trafficking Victims, a vital resource for trafficking victims and their families to access the protection and assistance needed to recover and reintegrate after trafficking. A Directory of Services educates and informs trafficking victims about what constitutes trafficking in persons and exploitation, and the rights and entitlements of trafficking victims. It also provides information about the types of assistance available to trafficking victims in a specific area or country (both trafficking-specific and other types of assistance) and how trafficking victims can access this support.

In recent years, we published a Directory of Services for Indonesian Trafficking Victims. And with our sister organization The Warnath Group, we are currently working on a Directory of Services for Child Trafficking Victims in Costa Rica, through the Innovations in Addressing Child Trafficking (IACT) Program.

A Directory of Services puts critical information directly in the hands of trafficking victims, enabling them to access protection and assistance. A Directory of Services also enhances practitioner knowledge of trafficking in persons and the services available for victims. Technology plays varying roles in the development and distribution of Directories of Services, from databases of service providers to online and mobile applications to connect trafficking victims with the support and protection they need.

For this World Day Against Trafficking in Persons and in partnership with the Regional Support Office of the Bali Process, we have just launched a set of publications on developing a Directory of Services for Trafficking Victims, including a tool to provide practitioners with step-by-step guidance on how to design and implement a Directory of Services for Trafficking Victims.

This tool includes an accompanying Microsoft Excel template in which practitioners can compile information about services to be included in the Directory of Services. A “how to” video is also available, offering clear guidance on how to design, prepare, and maintain an up-to-date Directory of Services for Trafficking Victims.

We invite you to learn more in this interview with the NEXUS Institute and in this short overview video.

This set of tools for practitioners accompanies our series providing easy access to high quality research and guidance on victim protection that can be used in direct daily work. Recent publications (available in English, Bahasa Indonesian, Malaysian, Vietnamese, and Thai) focus on trafficking victim identification, trafficking victim protection and support, recovery and reintegration of trafficking victims, and special and additional measures for child trafficking victims. Forthcoming publications will cover special and additional measures for victim-witnesses and access to remedies.



This continues to be a challenging time on many levels and we remain at the forefront of efforts to determine how anti-trafficking actors can best respond to the reshaping of trafficking in persons by the global pandemic, the effects of climate change, outbreaks of violence, and assaults on human rights around the world. We appreciate the number of professionals and practitioners who have made their materials available to aid in these efforts and we wish to remind you that NEXUS publications remain free and available on our website.

Victims’ Voices Lead the Way in Combatting Trafficking in Persons: World Day Against Trafficking in Persons 2021

This year’s theme for World Day Against Trafficking in Persons is Victims’ Voices Lead the Way, highlighting the importance of listening to and learning from victims of trafficking in persons. The voices of survivors are critical to anti-trafficking work and we, as practitioners, have much to learn from trafficked persons about what works, what doesn’t, and why. This includes understanding how trafficking victims experience anti-trafficking measures including when these measures, in spite of good intentions, are ineffective and even harmful. The recently published NEXUS Institute and Bali Process Regional Support Office (RSO) Practitioner Guides draw on victim-centered counter-trafficking research, to guide counter-trafficking practitioners.

Learning from victim experiences

For almost twenty years, NEXUS has been conducting research with trafficking victims around the world to learn from their experiences of identification, protection, and reintegration. By sharing this learning with government and civil society partners, the voices and perspectives of trafficked persons are placed at the heart of anti-trafficking interventions.

While anti-trafficking interventions are vital and often life-saving, victims have both positive and negative experiences during identification, protection, and reintegration processes. Trafficking victims describe a range of experiences at the different stages of post-trafficking life that influence their decisions about and responses to the support they receive.

For example, many trafficking victims describe their fear of authorities, leading many to avoid being identified.

Mistrust or negative past experiences of authorities may mean victims refuse assistance.

And during recovery and reintegration, many victims struggle to cope not only with the impacts of their trafficking exploitation but also due to vulnerabilities that existed in their lives before trafficking, which means that their self-articulated needs may not always align with available services.

In the case of trafficked children, the physical, psychological, and social impacts of trafficking necessitate special and additional measures.

By understanding how trafficking victims understand, perceive and experience identification, protection, and reintegration, practitioners can enhance how they do their day-to-day work.

Victim voices to guide practitioners

NEXUS Institute and the Regional Support Office of the Bali Process (RSO) have been working together to develop a Practitioner Guide Series, to support practitioners to learn from experiences of trafficking victims and fellow practitioners. This series distills research and guidance on different aspects of victim protection, so policymakers can improve practice and procedures, and practitioners can enhance their daily work with both adult and child victims of trafficking.

The target audience is all practitioners working with adult and child trafficking victims, including social workers, healthcare practitioners, psychologists and counselors, child protection specialists, law enforcement, lawyers and paralegals, teachers and school administrators, vocational trainers, job counselors and business experts and public administrators.

The guides are user-friendly with notepads and mini-exercises for use in daily work as well as in training and capacity building. And importantly, they offer users the opportunity to listen to and learn from the voices of victims.

Trafficking Victim Identification: A Practitioner Guide (2021)

Victim identification is the process by which an individual is identified as a trafficking victim, which, in turn, entitles them to rights and protections. While formal identification should lead to and facilitate the opportunity for a victim to be referred for assistance, this does not always occur in practice. Some trafficking victims are not identified and assisted by frontline responders and practitioners. Other victims decline to be identified and assisted. Still other victims may be formally identified but not referred for assistance or may be forced to accept assistance. This practitioner guide reviews existing research on victim identification (and non-identification), touching on why some victims are (and are not) identified, challenges in the identification process and practices that may enhance victim identification.


Trafficking Victim Protection and Support: A Practitioner Guide (2021)

Victims of trafficking are entitled to, and should receive, immediate protection from their exploiters and from the possibility of further harm, including the risk of re-trafficking. They should receive support to meet their immediate needs and ensure their well-being, irrespective of their willingness to participate in criminal justice procedures, protection from detention and prosecution and the right to privacy. This practitioner guide reviews existing research on the protection and support of trafficking victims in Asia, both in terms of what exists and what challenges arise in the provision of protection and support.


Recovery and Reintegration of Trafficking Victims: A Practitioner Guide (2021)

Recovery and reintegration is a complex and costly undertaking, often requiring a full and diverse set of services for victims (and sometimes their families), who themselves have widely differing short- and long-term physical, psychological, social and economic needs. Once the immediate needs of trafficked persons have been met, many victims require further assistance to reintegrate into their families and communities (e.g. vocational training, economic support, long-term access to healthcare, counseling, education, family mediation). Some assistance needs are a consequence of trafficking while others may be linked to vulnerabilities that existed before victims were trafficked as well as issues that have arisen in victims’ lives after trafficking. Because successful reintegration can take years to achieve, reintegration services must be available in the long-term and include follow-up and case management. This practitioner guide reviews and synthesizes existing research on recovery and reintegration of trafficking victims including barriers and challenges in the reintegration process as well as opportunities and entry points for supporting sustainable reintegration.


Special and Additional Measures for Child Trafficking Victims: A Practitioner Guide (2021)

The ASEAN Trafficking Convention (ACTIP) explicitly recognizes that child victims have special needs and that appropriate measures are needed to ensure the safety and well-being of child victims, from identification to the securing of a durable solution involving longer-term support. Care and protection must be made available on an equal and non-discriminatory basis with no distinction between child nationals and child non-nationals. Special attention should be paid to assessing and meeting the requirements of children with special needs such as the very young, those with disabilities and those who have suffered severe exploitation and abuse. This practitioner guide reviews existing research on the specific needs and experiences of trafficked children as well as measures in place and challenges faced to protect them. Based on this analysis, practitioners will be guided to a deeper understanding of how to more effectively address the critical issues that arise in implementing special and additional measures for trafficked children.

World Day Against Trafficking in Persons 2020

For World Day Against Trafficking in Persons 2020, we are sharing with you our publications from the last year.

In 2019, we were pleased to publish the research series from our project Good Practice in Global Data Collection on Trafficking in Persons: The Science (and Art) of Understanding TIP, which ran from 2014-2018. This global study drew from interviews with more than 120 TIP researchers, TIP experts, TIP data collection project staff, and National Rapporteurs-equivalent mechanisms engaged in collecting data on trafficking in persons and more than 400 trafficking victims who have been involved in TIP data collection or research. The publication series is for various stakeholders in the anti-trafficking community (researchers, data collection staff, policymakers, and practitioners) to utilize in their efforts to undertake and enhance TIP data collection and analysis.

We also continued our research and work on improving the identification of trafficking victims, examining barriers and opportunities to enhance identification in the former Soviet Union with a chapter in the SAGE Handbook of Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery and also how to enhance the identification of trafficked persons in mass migration settings.

Over the past decade, the NEXUS Institute has published extensive resources on the reintegration of trafficking victims, and this past year we continued those efforts, looking at the specific challenges that trafficked men face after trafficking.

Finally, in 2019, we conducted a review of research on trafficking in persons in five of the countries in the Mekong region (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam) as part of the USAID Asia CTIP Project.

This is a challenging time around the world and we are staying at the forefront of efforts to determine how anti-trafficking actors can best respond to the reshaping of human trafficking by this global pandemic. We appreciate the number of professionals and practitioners who have made their materials available as we collectively start to move forward and we wish to remind you that NEXUS publications remain free and available on our website.

The Science (and Art) of Understanding Trafficking in Persons: Good Practice in TIP Data Collection 

Available as a compressed pdf for mobile or slower Internet connection

This study identifies and explores good practice in TIP data collection in the areas of protection and prosecution, to inform and guide future anti-trafficking efforts. It begins by outlining what constitutes good practice in TIP data collection and the criteria to be considered in making this assessment (for example, data quality; relevance and usefulness; accessibility; timeliness; cost appropriateness; and attention to legal and ethical issues). The study then uses these criteria to examine current TIP data collection and research practices in different countries and regions, including the strengths and limitations of the various approaches. The study outlines five stages of TIP data collection – 1) design and planning; 2) data collection; 3) storage, maintenance and management; 4) analysis; and 5) use, presentation and dissemination – and explores the raft of issues that may arise at each of these stages as well as good practice examples at each particular stage. It draws on existing research and resources on TIP data collection, as well as the collective knowledge and experiences of TIP researchers, data collectors, TIP experts and trafficking victims globally to offer practical guidance, lessons and tools in how to implement TIP data collection efforts. The target audience of this publication is anti-trafficking professionals, organizations and institutions that are currently or are planning to collect TIP data.

On the Frontlines: Operationalizing Good Practice in TIP Data Collection

These guidelines, based on lessons from past and current TIP data collection efforts, are for frontline staff from governments, international organizations (IOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who are engaged in TIP data collection. The guidelines are based on good practice and lessons from The Science (and Art) of Understanding Trafficking in Persons: Good Practice in TIP Data Collection and offer step-by-step guidance and checklists on how to conduct TIP data collection in a constructive and ethical way and in line with existing work and mandates.

Legal and Ethical Issues in Data Collection on Trafficking in Persons

Available as a compressed pdf for mobile or slower Internet connection

Data collection on trafficking in persons (TIP) is an important part of anti-trafficking efforts, including for protection, prosecution and prevention purposes. There has been increased emphasis on gathering TIP data in recent years and, commensurately, growing awareness of the legal and ethical considerations associated with doing so. There are many legal and ethical complexities at play in how anti-trafficking researchers and professionals undertake TIP data collection. The legal and ethical frameworks relevant to TIP data collection differ by country, context and project and may also be informed by a range of other factors, including the type of data being collected, who is collecting data, where data collection takes place, who is funding data collection, whether data collection involves a group requiring special consideration, whether there are emerging issues affecting the existing legal and ethical framework and so on. This study explores the legal and ethical issues that arise when conducting TIP data collection, including the intersections and, at times, the tensions between the two. It examines legal and ethical issues in the context of traditional types of data collection, as well as emerging forms of TIP data collection. This study draws on concrete examples and experiences of those working in the field of TIP data collection from different countries globally to identify what issues and problems may arise, how these may be addressed, as well as the complex on-going discussion and debate around these issues, which remain largely unresolved. The intention of this study is to encourage discussion around these complicated issues, while acknowledging the grey zones in ethical and legal assessments of how TIP data is and should be collected and protected. This publication is intended for anti-trafficking actors engaged in TIP data collection across its varying forms and from different approaches, particularly prosecution and protection.

Good Practice in TIP Data Collection: Recommendations for Donors and Funders

These recommendations for donors and funders offer guidance on how to support TIP data collection before, during and after data collection takes place. They aim to maximize the positive contribution that donors and funders are already making to the field of TIP data collection.

Identifying Trafficked Migrants and Refugees Along the Balkan Route. Exploring the Boundaries of Exploitation, Vulnerability and Risk

This article explores what we can learn about the identification of and assistance to trafficked persons from practitioners in Serbia on the front line of Europe’s refugee crisis. Questions arise as to whether and to what extent the anti-trafficking framework is effective in offering protection to trafficked migrants/refugees in a mass migration setting, but also what is lost if the specific perspective of the anti-trafficking framework is set aside or given lower priority. It is important to discuss who is included and who is excluded; whether protection and assistance meet people’s needs; and whether or how the existing framework can be used to greater effect. While it was challenging to operationalize the anti-trafficking framework, both conceptually and practically, during the refugee crisis in the Balkans, it remains an important approach that should have been mobilized to a greater extent, both to secure individual protections and rights and to gather information about human trafficking in conflict and crisis, which, in turn, increases the ability to respond effectively.

Feeling a Failure: Returning Home a ‘Trafficked’ Man in Indonesia

Large numbers of Indonesian men migrate each year for work in construction, factories, agriculture, on plantations and on fishing boats. Many end up exploited in ways that constitute human trafficking, suffering violence, deprivation, restricted freedom and severe exploitation as well as long periods of separation from their families. Being able to escape and return home was a turning point in these men’s lives. And yet reintegrating into their families after trafficking was not uncomplicated. While many family problems were caused by economics, tensions also resulted from long separations, fractured relationships, and frustration over “failed” migration and unfulfilled expectations. Understanding the nature of and reasons for the problems men face after trafficking is key in designing and implementing programs and policies for trafficked men to recover and reintegrate, however, experiences of long-term reintegration, particularly men’s experiences, are largely missing from research on human trafficking. This research with trafficked Indonesian men, 49 of whom were interviewed in the lead-up to this article, is designed to help fill this gap.

“Identification of Trafficking Victims in Europe and the Former Soviet Union” in The SAGE Handbook of Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery

The identification of trafficking victims continues to be a challenge in anti-trafficking work. There are many ways that victims exit trafficking and encounter anti-trafficking practitioners. Victim identification may take place in different settings, under different conditions and at different stages of a victim’s trafficking and post-trafficking life. Nevertheless, many victims go unidentified and are consequently subject to continued exploitation, sometimes for extended periods of time. Based on the experiences of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation, forced labor and begging or delinquency, this chapter discusses how victim identification does and does not take place in various settings and the reasons why victims may go unidentified. Barriers to victim identification include both personal barriers, linked to decisions of trafficking victims themselves, as well as structural barriers linked to the institutional anti-trafficking response of a specific country. The chapter is based on research with trafficking victims, service providers and criminal justice actors in several countries in Europe (Albania, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Italy, Norway, Romania, Serbia) and the former Soviet Union (Moldova and Ukraine).

Quality and Rigor in TIP research in the Mekong Region: Assessing the Evidence Base

Our knowledge of and responses to TIP must be informed and driven by high quality evidence – that is, technically robust and ethically rigorous research and program data. Weak or inaccurate evidence has the potential to distort our understanding of TIP and our ability to effectively design, implement and evaluate CTIP interventions. This research review explores the nature and quality of TIP research in five Mekong countries (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam), identifying key issues and challenges and making concrete recommendations on how to improve future TIP research and data collection.

A Review of TIP Research in the Mekong Region (2008-2018)

NEXUS Institute conducted a review of TIP research from 2008 to 2018 in and from five of the countries in the Mekong region (Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam), to provide an overview of existing research and research and to inform the USAID Asia CTIP project. This brief summarizes the key findings of this TIP research review (Quality and Rigor in TIP Research in the Mekong Region: Assessing the Evidence Base and Exploring the Evidence: A Review of Research on TIP for Agriculture, Construction and Domestic Work in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam).

Tackling human trafficking along the Balkan Route. How to improve identification and assistance of trafficked migrants and refugees

In recent years, the flow of migrants and refugees into Europe has significantly increased. This has primarily involved the dramatic influx of Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees/migrants who have moved through the Balkans (often referred to as “the Balkan route”) in their attempt to reach and resettle in the European Union (EU).

Map by NEXUS Institute: The Balkan Route

Along the way and at various stages of their journeys and flights, many of these migrants and refugees are exposed to different risks, vulnerabilities and exploitation, including, in some cases, human trafficking. And yet, to date, there has been limited empirical evidence of when, why and how vulnerability to human trafficking arises in mass movements of migrants and refugees. Not least, new patterns of vulnerabilities and exploitation challenge established procedures for identification of and assistance to victims. More knowledge and evidence of these risk and vulnerability factors is essential to better inform improved policy and programmatic responses in the fields of migration, asylum and human trafficking.

Recently NEXUS Institute and Fafo, in partnership with Serbian NGOs Atina and Centre for Youth Integration, released Vulnerability and exploitation along the Balkan route: Identifying victims of human trafficking in Serbia. This study presents the experiences of trafficked migrants and trafficked refugees who have moved to and through Serbia over the past two years. The paper also explores the different ways and situations in which refugees and migrants have become vulnerable and been subjected to human trafficking while en route or in transit in Serbia, as well as challenges and barriers to their formal identification and assistance as victims of human trafficking.

Photograph by Peter Biro/ECHO: Syrian refugees in flight from their conflict affected country. All rights reserved.

The following recommendations offer some overarching guidance for how stakeholders may begin to work more effectively on these issues and to better identify and assist trafficked migrants/refugees. 

Better understand human trafficking in crisis. We need to better understand the nature and scope of human trafficking in the context of mass movements of migrants and refugees including who is at risk (men, women and children) and what puts them at risk. This also includes looking into how trafficking may occur differently at different stages of one’s journey or flight and also upon arrival at one’s destination.


Inform and educate migrants and refugees about human trafficking. Migrants and refugees need to be informed about the risk of human trafficking during flight, in refugee settings and also once they arrive at their final destination. They need to know what risks exist and how to evade them. They also need information about what to do in case they are in a situation of risk and whom they can contact for help.


Integrate human trafficking into the humanitarian response. Many migrants and refugees may, at different stages of their lives and journey/flight, occupy multiple categories of vulnerability as “migrants”, “refugees” and “trafficking victims”. Regardless of one’s identity(ies), trafficked migrants and trafficked refugees require assistance and protection. Anti-trafficking efforts should be mainstreamed into the humanitarian response to ensure inclusive protections and assistance.


Develop tools and guidance to identify human trafficking among migrants and refugees. Specials tools and guidance are needed to identify trafficked migrants/refugees in the context of mass movements. Signals and indicators of human trafficking will need to be adapted to how trafficking manifests and can be recognized in a situation of mass movement of migrants/refugees. Different forms of human trafficking are also likely to manifest themselves and frontline responders should be equipped to recognize and respond to these emergent and evolving forms of human trafficking.


Build the capacity of humanitarian responders to identify and assist victims of trafficking. Humanitarian actors (from national governments, civil society as well as the international community) lack knowledge of and skills to identify and assist trafficked migrants/refugees. Frontline responders in crises should be trained in how to identify presumed trafficking victims among migrants and refugees and how to refer them for formal identification and protection. Humanitarian frontline responders should also be trained in tools that are tailored to identification of trafficking victims in the context of the mass movement of migrants and refugees.


Ensure sufficient capacity and procedures for formal identification of trafficking victims. With a dramatic increase in the numbers of individuals with a known heightened risk to being or having been trafficked, the existing infrastructure for formal identification (and thus the individuals’ access to rights and services) may be insufficient. When this population is also fast moving, the response and processing time should be continuously assessed and improved as necessary.

Photograph by Peter Biro/ECHO: Syrian refugees in flight from their conflict affected country. All rights reserved.

Provide assistance to trafficked persons identified among migrants/refugees. Trafficking victims (men, women, boys and girls) may need a raft of services to assist them in their recovery. Assistance that addresses these recovery needs should be available to all trafficking victims. At a minimum, this assistance should include safe housing, material and psychological support, access to medical services, translation and interpretation services where appropriate, counseling on legal rights and their eligibility for services.


Coordinate protection efforts across different fields of work and “statuses”. It is important that victims do not suffer as a result of a “status-based approach” whereby they must fit their needs and access their rights according to only one status – as a migrant, refugee or victim of trafficking. Protection efforts should be integrated in such a way that trafficked migrants/refugees can leverage assistance and protection to meet their individual needs. Organizations and institutions must increasingly coordinate their efforts such that they complement one another in offering protection.


Identify ways to prevent TIP among migrants/refugees. Both the journey/flight and the refugee setting (whether in formal or informal camps or as urban refugees) may expose trafficking victims to human trafficking and measures must be put in place to prevent this additional exploitation.



* All references to Kosovo, whether the territory, institutions or population, in this text shall be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo.

Trafficked Along the “Balkan Route”

This photo essay originally appeared on June 9, 2016 on Medium.

Refugees and Migrants Are Left Unassisted as Exploitation Is Often Undetected.

In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of refugees and migrants traveling on the “Balkan route” — the path stretching from the Middle East to the European Union through Turkey and South East Europe — in search of a better life in the European Union. The journey, via the choppy and often deadly waters of the Aegean Sea, is fraught with risk and many people find themselves exposed to exploitation, including human trafficking.

A family fleeing the war in Syria. Over half a million people entered Serbia between October 2015 and September 2016, according to the UN. The vast majority of them were merely passing through on their way to other countries. Photo: Peter Biro/ECHO.

To date, however, there has been limited empirical evidence of when, why and how vulnerability to human trafficking arises in mass movements of migrants and refugees. Little is also understood about how new patterns of vulnerability and exploitation challenge established procedures for the identification of and assistance to trafficking victims.

Hundreds of trafficked migrants and refugees — from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere — who have moved to and through Serbia over the past two years have provided a unique insight into their experiences in a new report by NEXUS Institute and Fafo in partnership with Serbian non-governmental groups Atina and Centre for Youth Integration.

Syrian refugees in a makeshift camp in Lebanon. Restrictions on refugees’ ability to work legally in Lebanon, as well as strict enforcement of visas and residence permits, has increased refugees’ vulnerability to sex trafficking and forced labor. Photo: Peter Biro/ECHO.

Our research highlights the exploitation and trafficking of migrants and refugees who have moved to and through Serbia over the past two years. Reported human trafficking cases included male and female victims, adult and child victims and individuals trafficked for different forms of exploitation. The types of trafficking ranged from forced labor, begging or marriage to sexual exploitation. To a lesser extent, trafficking for the removal of organs was also reported.

“Several migrants and refugees have been forced to provide sexual services as a means of continuing their journey toward the EU,” said Rebecca Surtees, NEXUS Senior Researcher and the report’s co-author. “In some cases, they were forced to sell sexual services to survive. In other instances, smugglers forced migrants or refugees into prostitution in order for them to earn money to fund the onward travel.”

“Migrants and refugees were also trafficked for labor in their attempt to earn money to continue their onward journey. They often had their passports seized and held by ‘employers’, were not paid and subjected to threats and physical violence. This included men, women and children.”

Among refugees and migrants who are staying temporarily in Serbia there is a great fluidity in the identities of “migrant”, “refugee” and “trafficking victim”. Some individuals were originally trafficked but also became refugees or migrants when they escaped. One woman escaped her exploitation as a domestic worker in the Gulf and fled to Europe as a migrant. Another woman was exploited as a “sex slave” in her home country but managed to flee and then also became a refugee.

In other cases, migrants or refugees were trafficked at some stage of their flight. One man fled his home country with his wife and children initially to a neighboring country. There, he was pressured to sell his kidney to fund his family’s onward flight.

“People have also been vulnerable to exploitation in settings where they have been stranded or unable to move on because they lack resources to pay smugglers or others to help them to continue their journey,” said Anette Brunovskis, Fafo Senior Researcher and co-author of the study.

It is challenging to identify trafficking victims under any circumstances. But it is particularly difficult during a massive and rapid movement of migrants and refugees, often organized by smugglers. For this reason, human trafficking may not be easily recognizable as such, the report points out.

“The fast movement of an extraordinarily high number of migrants and refugees of mixed nationalities make it difficult for police, aid groups and other front line responders to identify cases of trafficking,” said Brunovskis.

“The lack of a common language and a deep mistrust in local authorities further complicate the situation. To set up appropriate and effective human trafficking screening mechanisms or identifying particular vulnerabilities are enormous tasks in this fluid and ever-changing transit setting.”

Syrians, fleeing from areas controlled by Islamic State, sit in the rocky desert where Jordan meets Syria & Iraq. For some refugees and migrants, it was the situation they had ended up in as a result of trafficking — either in their home countries or in refugee camps — that led them to flee in the first place. Photo: Peter Biro/ECHO.

Typical indicators and signals of trafficking risk, which front line responders have been trained to identify, might not be relevant when it comes to trafficked migrants and refugees. There is an urgent need to develop more responsive tools to identify and assist trafficked migrants and refugees. But it is also important to consider other forms of vulnerability and exploitation that migrants and refugees face, which may be caused by or lead to human trafficking.

Syrian refugees warm up in their makeshift shelter in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Photo: Peter Biro/ECHO

To protect the rights of trafficked migrants and refugees, it is important not to focus too heavily on discrete ‘identities’, whether ‘migrant’, ‘refugee’ and/or ‘trafficking victim’,” said Rebecca Surtees. “Paying attention to this complexity and the overlapping identities will not only allow for a more holistic assistance response for individuals, but also a more inclusive social protection response generally in this country and beyond.”

Read the full report here. You can follow the work of NEXUS Institute at and @NEXUSInstitute. You may follow the work of Fafo Institute at and @FafoInfo.

Human Trafficking In Indonesia: The Difficult Road Home

This photo essay originally appeared on July 13, 2016 on Medium.

In Indonesia, human trafficking is a pressing problem. With over 32 million people living below the poverty line in this vast island nation, many thousands of Indonesians each year end up in working conditions indicative of trafficking. And once a trafficking victim returns home, the ordeal of being trapped in modern slavery is too often followed by a daunting personal struggle to put their life back together, according to new research by the NEXUS Institute, an independent human rights research and policy center based in Washington, D.C.

Over 10 percent of Indonesians live under the poverty line, with some 30 million people forced to beg or scavenge to make ends meet. Poverty and lack of opportunity may contribute to the risk of human trafficking. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

Based on extensive interviews with almost 100 trafficking victims and over 100 anti-trafficking professionals and service providers in Indonesia, Going Home — Challenges in the Reintegration of Trafficking Victims in Indonesia details the uncertain and precarious path toward recovery and reintegration faced by many victims of human trafficking in Indonesia. Going Home is the first in a series of longitudinal studies by the NEXUS Institute about human trafficking and victim reintegration in Indonesia.

A woman recycles plastic bottles at a garbage dump in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

This research is the first longitudinal study on human trafficking conducted in Indonesia and one of only a few in the world. It offers a unique lens into the complex process of reintegration for victims after being trafficked, drawing on the firsthand accounts of a diverse group of trafficking victims,” said Stephen Warnath, President, CEO and Founder of NEXUS Institute. “These men and women shared their experiences with us and, in doing so, reveal stories of hope, determination, perseverance, courage, and resilience. Our report documents their experiences and introduces what support is available for reintegration of victims of human trafficking in Indonesia, and the constraints and obstacles victims face in accessing that support. The stories that emerge from our interviews are not unique. Listening to their voices and the lessons to be learned from them can benefit many countries around the world.”

Women in prostitution by the railroad tracks. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

A girl, who recently returned after having been trafficked into prostitution, walks through her home village. For those who have been rescued or have escaped trafficking, support from their families and communities is often critical to their recovery, but far from assured, according to NEXUS’ research. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

A number of government initiatives exist to assist returning trafficking victims. Indonesia’s Anti-Trafficking Law (Law 21/2007), for example, provides a right to healthcare, psychological support and counseling, temporary shelter and legal aid.

Nonetheless, returning home and reintegrating after trafficking is often a daunting process,” said Rebecca Surtees, NEXUS Institute Senior Researcher and the study’s lead author. “Many returning trafficking victims do not receive the assistance and support that they need to recover — despite existing legislation and support programs. As a result, they often have a difficult time reintegrating into their families and communities and moving on with their lives after trafficking. They often face on-going vulnerability.”

A man receives medical care in a community clinic in West Java. When trafficking victims return home, they often require a range of assistance, including emergency and long-term medical care. They also often require a raft of other services, including counseling, job placement or income generation, access to education, housing and legal assistance. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

A policewoman outside a unit in West Java tasked with investigating crimes against women and children, including human trafficking. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

Travelers at Jakarta’s main bus station. Reintegration is much more than only returning to one’s family. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

Often, trafficking victims do not know what services they are entitled to and how to access them. Those who do receive assistance from the government or civil society do not always receive help that is tailored to their individual needs or adequately supports their efforts to reintegrate, according to the study.

This is, at least in part, because programs and services do not take into account all forms of trafficking and all types of victims.

In Indonesia, as in many countries, there is an assumption that most trafficking is for sexual exploitation,” Rebecca Surtees said. “Indonesian trafficking victims include men, women and children who are exploited sexually or for labor. Reintegration services and support need to be tailored to each individual victim’s unique and specific experience and assistance needs.”

A domestic worker employed in an Indonesian household. Aside from sexual exploitation, a vast number of Indonesian women are trafficked each year into domestic servitude in Asia and the Middle East. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

A man working in a factory in West Java. Many Indonesians are trafficked for different types of labor. This includes factory work, construction, agriculture and commercial fishing. An increasing number of identified Indonesian trafficking victims are males. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

Workers and fishers in Jakarta’s port. Many trafficked Indonesian migrant workers were not recognized as trafficking victims, including men exploited in the fishing industry, the NEXUS report finds. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

A fisherman in the waters off the port in Jakarta. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

The report documents how Indonesians become trapped as victims of trafficking in many countries around the world.

“Indonesians are trafficked within the country or exploited abroad, in neighboring Asian countries as well as further afield, including the Middle East, Africa and Latin America,” said Thaufiek Zulbahary, NEXUS Researcher and co-author of the report.

This map shows the various forms of exploitation and destination countries for respondents in the NEXUS report.

Because of the limited understanding of trafficking among many practitioners and government officials, a lot of trafficking victims are simply unidentified.

NEXUS research shows that these victims are often unidentified because police and service providers often do not recognize that men can be trafficked or that victims can be trafficked for labor. Victims themselves often do not understand that their experiences of exploitation while migrant workers are, in fact, the crimes of human trafficking and forced labor.

Nearly half of the trafficked persons in the NEXUS study were not formally identified and went unassisted, like this woman in a district of West Java. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

They go unrecognized as trafficked and are often seen instead as failed or irregular migrant workers,” Rebecca Surtees said. “Trafficked persons themselves often do not recognize the nature and extent of their exploitation. As a consequence, they go unassisted and struggle to recover from trafficking and reintegrate into their families and communities.”

Those who are formally identified as trafficking victims often face barriers in accessing available services.

There is often a lack of information about available reintegration assistance and trafficking victims do not know where to go or who to ask for support,” said Suarni Daeng Caya, NEXUS Researcher and co-author of the report. “Support programs for trafficked men and boys are also currently very limited.”

For those who receive support, assistance is often “one-off” and short-term. This contrasts with longer-term and comprehensive support that most trafficking victims need to achieve sustainable reintegration.

A woman at her vegetable stand in Jakarta. Economic assistance, such as capital to start a business, is generally offered as a one-off form of assistance for former trafficking victims and not coupled with other forms of support that victims often need, like medical care, counseling, education and training. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

A man running a small food business in his village. Food stalls are a common form of small business in Indonesia. Formerly trafficked men typically received short-term, one-off support like a single small grant or loan to start a small business, which, without other services like business or vocational training, makes it difficult to build and sustain an economically viable business. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

Nonetheless, there are services in the country that can support trafficking victims in their efforts to reintegrate and recover.

“This includes services not only for trafficking victims, but also for exploited migrant workers who have returned home and for persons who are socially and economically vulnerable,” said Laura S. Johnson, NEXUS Researcher and report co-author. “Some programs and services — like access to education — are available to all Indonesian citizens.”

Among the report’s recommendations is that trafficking victims need to be supported in making greater use of services and programs that already exist to assist a wide range of beneficiaries, rather than to limit support solely to programs dedicated to assist those who have survived being trafficked. Trafficking victims are often eligible for this larger array of programs, but currently they are rarely able to access and obtain these programs’ services and support.

Others key recommendations are that reintegration services — which need to be long-term, comprehensive and provided by qualified professionals — should be made available to all types of trafficking victims (men, women, girls and boys) as well as victims of all forms of human trafficking. Service providers should work with individual victims to assess their needs and to design a plan for their reintegration; they should work with victims over time to implement and monitor their reintegration process.

While these stories, and the report that they are based upon, focus on Indonesia, these findings are relevant for many countries around the world.

“The experiences recounted by Indonesian trafficking victims mirror the experiences of trafficking victims shared with NEXUS researchers in many other places,” Stephen Warnath notes. “In most countries there is much more that can be done to provide critically needed support for the men, women and children who have escaped or been rescued from human trafficking. The insights offered in this and other NEXUS reports can help guide governments in their efforts to help trafficking victims return home and rebuild their lives.”

A small business in a trafficking-affected village in West Java. Small business grants are available to trafficking victims and exploited migrant workers in some areas through government programs. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

A man and boy register for services at a local health clinic in West Java. Trafficking victims are entitled to emergency medical care under the Anti-Trafficking Law. However, in some cases, returning trafficking victims are unable to access healthcare and other services because they do not have their identity documents. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

A group of women stand outside their houses in a village in West Java. Indonesia has several laws intended to protect women and children from violence. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

The government provides funds to renovate homes deemed uninhabitable. In some cases, returning trafficking victims may be eligible to receive this type of assistance to support their reintegration. Still, millions of Indonesians live in very poor conditions. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

An elderly man begs on the street in a city in West Java. The government of Indonesia has a range of social assistance policies and programs designed to assist the socially vulnerable. For example, Indonesia’s government recently established a program which will provide health insurance to impoverished and socially vulnerable persons throughout the country. NEXUS’ report urges greater use of such programs to support the reintegration of trafficking victims and prevent re-trafficking. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

Children in a village in West Java. In Indonesia, primary school education is free of charge. Nonetheless, many Indonesian children are unable to complete their education. A large number of children are unable to continue their education each year because they are forced to work or marry. Lack of education may make them vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

Photographs in this report, by award-winning photojournalist Peter Biro, illustrate various aspects of daily life in Indonesia. Unless stated otherwise, individuals in these photographs are not trafficking victims. All rights are reserved by the NEXUS Institute.

The NEXUS study, Going Home, was made possible through the support of the United States Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP). The research was implemented in partnership with the Indonesian Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection and the Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs. Read the full report here. You can follow more of NEXUS Institute’s work and @NEXUSInstitute.

Traffickers and Trafficking Enterprises. Challenges in researching human traffickers and trafficking operations

This post originally appeared on July 31, 2015 at The Trafficking Research Project


Traffickers and Trafficking Enterprises. Challenges in researching human traffickers and trafficking operations.

TTRP has taken a reprieve – and there are changes underfoot! Until our next and final post, Rebecca Surtees, to whom we are immensely grateful for steadfastly supporting our mission, provides us with a final guest contribution to the blog.

This post is adapted from Traffickers and trafficking. Challenges in researching human traffickers and trafficking operations, a paper authored by NEXUS Institute within the framework of the NEXUS Institute and IOM Human Trafficking Research Series funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP). For more information on this topic and others relating to strategies to obtain and analyse better data for more impact, visit us and @NEXUSInstitute.

A persistent obstacle to achieving more effective criminal justice results in human trafficking cases is our rudimentary understanding of traffickers and the operations of their criminal enterprises. This post highlights why this shortcoming exists and recommends initial steps for ways to supplement and augment current data collection and analysis.

While much research exists about trafficking victims, far less is known about the behaviours, motivations and operations of the perpetrators of trafficking. A clearer picture of how traffickers operate can be used in the development of criminal justice and social welfare responses to human trafficking – informing policies, strategies and interventions. Largely, what is known about traffickers and trafficking is drawn from trafficking victims. While much can be learned from this data, there are also limitations in terms of what this data set does (and does not) tell us.

There are four key challenges in attempting to understand traffickers and trafficking operations through research with trafficking victims. These are:

  1. The impact of selection bias: which trafficked persons are interviewed (and what subgroups can reveal). Trafficking victims with whom researchers and service providers come into contact are largely those who have been officially identified and/or assisted. Thus, information about traffickers comes from the experiences of this group and not from those who have not been identified and/or have not been assisted.
  1. Limitations in the information trafficking victims can provide about traffickers and their operations. While victims may have some information about their exploiters and the trafficking process, they are unlikely to have a comprehensive understanding about traffickers and/or their operations. Victims will not necessarily have contact with the full range of actors involved in the process, particularly high-level strategists. As a consequence, trafficked persons are likely able to provide only certain types of limited information and are generally unfamiliar with the intricacies of the trafficking operation.
  1. The ability of victims to supply information about traffickers. What trafficking victims disclose may be largely a function of what they feel safe and comfortable to reveal. Some may fear reprisals from traffickers, or mistrust authorities. Others may wish only to put their trafficking experience behind them. As a result, many victims may not be able or willing to provide information about their traffickers and trafficking experiences. Victims may also be more open to talking about some individuals and actors involved in the trafficking process as opposed to others, which influences what data is available.
  1. Ethical issues related to some types of questions. Researchers must consider ethical issues in research with trafficked persons, not least the stress and difficulty of being interviewed about trafficking experiences and exploiters. When service providers collect information from trafficking victims they are assisting, there is also a blurring of the roles and boundaries between research and service provision, which can impact the data and undermine feelings of comfort and trust.

Nonetheless, recent studies suggest potentially fruitful entry points for research about traffickers and their operations, drawing on two distinct types of data:

  1. Criminal justice statistics, including police investigations and court documents. Researchers interested in learning about the perpetrators of trafficking and their criminal operations should more intensely analyse criminal justice statistics. Official crime statistics provide information in terms of the criminal justice system response to trafficking, including what is working well and what needs improvement. Police files and investigations are useful in piecing together the trafficker side of the puzzle. Court transcripts, where legally accessible, reveal information about the individuals involved (including descriptions of traffickers’ lives, motivations and actions) as well as individual cases and movement through the criminal justice system. A number of studies illustrate the depth and breadth of information that can be drawn from criminal justice data including: Another Delivery from Tashkent, Understanding human trafficking: Development of typologies of traffickers, Women who traffic women: the role of women in human trafficking networks – Dutch cases, The organisation of human trafficking. A study of criminal involvement in sexual exploitation in Sweden, Finland and Estonia and Analysis of Some Highly-Structured Networks of Human Smuggling and Trafficking from Albania and Bulgaria to Belgium.

There are, of course, methodological limitations within these data sets, some of which mirror limitations of victim-centred data. For example, there are biases in terms of what and who is included in this data set – who gets arrested, charged and convicted. Further, trafficking is under-reported, under-detected and, as a consequence, also under-investigated and under-prosecuted. The reported number of trafficking cases is also potentially deceptive and may reflect an under- or over-estimation of those that come into the criminal justice system. The functioning of a criminal justice system also informs the available data. Different information gathering tools, variable skills of criminal justice practitioners, and the legal and policy framework can all play significant roles in what data is generated and what this data reveals. Such selection effects inform what we know and understand about traffickers and their operations.

  1. Primary research with traffickers. Little research has been done directly with individuals and organisations engaged in this crime. However, primary research can reveal much about who traffickers are in different settings and markets; their roles and levels of engagement; how trafficking takes place; how it differs according to location, destination and form of exploitation; traffickers’ motivations and their relationships to the persons they exploit; how human trafficking operations work within the broader market; and trafficker perceptions and feelings about their “work”. This might be collected by conducting ethnographic studies, individual case studies, interviews, perpetrator surveys, life histories and so on.

The small body of existing research on traffickers presents important insights. Not infrequently, it begins to reveal a picture that differs, at least in part, from that based on information from trafficking victims, law enforcement, service providers and other anti-trafficking professionals. For example, a number of studies describe how traffickers perceive their role in trafficking operations – for example as facilitators in the migration process or business persons helping out prospective migrants. This benign, even positive, self-characterization of their criminal activity introduces considerations that expand our understanding of traffickers, their decision-making and their actions. See for example, Techniques of neutralizing the trafficking of women. A case study of an active trafficker in Greece. Others focus on the trafficking operations, at different levels and involvement of traffickers, including Sex trafficking: an exploratory study interviewing traffickers, From Victims to Victimizers: Interviews with 25 Ex-pimps in Chicago, A report on trafficking in women and children in India and Organised immigration crime: a post-conviction study. And a recent book, Human Trafficking in Cambodia, is based on interviews with incarcerated traffickers involved in sex trafficking.

Research with traffickers is difficult and complex. Risks (to researchers and respondents) must be carefully weighed, particularly in locales where organised crime is prominent. Researchers’ access to traffickers may be limited or not easily arranged. Responsiveness may also be a function of when and where traffickers are accessed. Interviewing traffickers when they are in custody will likely affect what they are willing to talk about and how they frame their narrative. Careful thought is needed as to what information one collects from traffickers as well as in what context and why.

There are also ethical considerations to consider when researching traffickers, in terms of holding information that may help identify victims or observing, and possibly even inadvertently participating in, the trafficking process. Nonetheless, there are opportunities for collecting information directly from persons involved in various parts of the trafficking process. Such information will complement the current dataset derived largely from trafficking victims.

Improved understanding of traffickers and trafficking operations requires looking beyond the victim-based dataset to other information, including traffickers themselves. Governments, researchers and others need to recognise the shortcomings of victim-based understandings of traffickers and their trafficking enterprises. Relying primarily on information provided by trafficking victims to study traffickers results in substantial biases and selection effects influencing our knowledge of traffickers and trafficking operations. It also contributes to a “black and white” picture of trafficking victims and traffickers, when the reality is often far more complex. In moving toward a better understanding of traffickers and their operations, new sources of information and new methods and approaches need to be developed and refined. This need is more than methodological. It is also an issue of perspective in which an understanding and explanation of trafficking is derived largely (and sometimes exclusively) by considering the behaviours, actions and backgrounds of trafficking victims to the exclusion of the perpetrators of the crime whose actions and motivations should be the primary concern if combating trafficking is our objective.

After trafficking. The reintegration needs and experiences of trafficked children

This post originally appeared on March 14, 2014 at The Trafficking Research Project


After trafficking. The (re)integration needs and experiences of trafficked children

Regular contributor Rebecca Surtees from the NEXUS Institute is back this week. This post focuses on one of the findings identified in“After Trafficking. Experiences and challenges in the (re)integration of trafficked persons in the GMS”, a regional study of (re)integration in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS). The research study was commissioned by the six COMMIT governments as part of the 2nd and 3rd COMMIT Sub-regional Plan of Action (2008-2010 and 2011-2013). The study, conducted by NEXUS Instituteanalysed the effectiveness of (re)integration processes and structures from the point of view of trafficked persons and the service providers that support them, uncovering whether and to what extent services currently offered to trafficking victims and their families are meeting their (re)integration needs, including any unmet assistance needs. The study was coordinated by the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP) and was overseen by a Regional Working Group comprised of Save the Children UK, World Vision International, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF),NEXUS Institute and UNIAP. 

This study was based on in-depth interviews with 252 trafficked persons from all six countries in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) about their experiences of (re)integration, including successes and challenges, as well as future plans and aspirations. The study included persons who had been identified and assisted, as well as those who were not identified and/or did not receive assistance. Understanding the diverse and complex post-trafficking trajectories sheds light on a wide range of issues and dynamics at play in the (re)integration processes in the GMS. It also highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of existing (re)integration mechanisms and processes.

Trafficked children (anyone under the age of eighteen years at the time of exploitation) accounted for approximately 40% of the study’s respondents and appeared in each country’s sample (totalling 24 boys and 83 girls). These trafficked children were primarily exploited within the region, although in a handful of cases the children were exploited in neighbouring countries, namely Malaysia and Indonesia. Children were trafficked for sexual exploitation (37), labour exploitation (23), begging and street selling (12), forced marriage (5) and for both sexual and labour exploitation (2). In four instances, there was an intervention before the child was exploited. Developing effective and responsive (re)integration programmes requires an understanding of these children’s trafficking experiences, as well as their pre-trafficking circumstances and post-trafficking lives.

Trafficked children, by virtue of their age, maturity and trafficking experience, had specific and often specialised assistance needs. Some (re)integration organisations were specialised in supporting the (re)integration of trafficked children and offered comprehensive and tailored services to children of different ages and at different stages of development. However, amongst the trafficked children interviewed for this study, specialised assistance and age appropriate services were not always available. In some cases, (re)integration services for children did not differ substantially from those for adults and most children did not describe assistance tailored to their individual needs as children. Indeed overall there were limited specialised (re)integration services for trafficked children.

Issues in the provision of child-specific (re)integration support centred around different service areas including:

1. Appropriate accommodation for trafficked children

Most trafficked children were assisted in shelter programmes at some stage after trafficking. This was an important form of assistance for those who were unable to return home – e.g. because they were without parents or a viable family environment. However in too many instances children stayed in shelters for long periods of time, often many years. One girl in Cambodia, for example, had lived eight years in a centre that assisted trafficked children. In very few instances was “kinship care” (care provided by relatives or extended family) pursued in spite of being the best alternative when family reunification was not possible. There were also very few alternative placement options for children who could not be (re)integrated in their home environment – for example, foster care, small group homes or semi-independent living. There was also limited support for trafficked children and youth in transitioning to an independent life when unable to return to family/community.

2. Medical assistance

Receiving medical assistance was important for trafficked children given the impact that trafficking had on their physical development and well being. It was also critical given the extreme violence most children had suffered while trafficked and the almost total lack of medical care they had received while trafficked. One Vietnamese girl, assisted in a shelter programme, identified medical care as a key form of support, because her family was too poor to pay for medical treatment. The availability of medical care in the shelter (and the lack of this assistance in the community) was a key factor in her decision to accept assistance. Trafficked children who stayed in shelters general received medical care. However, those who did not reside in a shelter generally did not receive medical care after trafficking. Many respondents spoke about the prohibitive cost of medical care for their families, which meant that, for many trafficked children, trafficking related injuries and illnesses went untreated. Even when medical assistance was provided, staff did not always have the training and skills to provide sensitive and appropriate services to trafficked children, which is critical when treating highly traumatised and extensively violated children.

3. Psychosocial support and counselling

Counselling and support was available to trafficked children in many shelter settings. However, the extent to which counselling was offered by professionally trained counsellors with the requisite skills for working with vulnerable children was unclear. Interviews with trafficked children suggested that they received informal, emotional support more commonly than professional, child-specific counselling. There was a need for culturally and child appropriate counselling, as well as support in developing coping tools like how to deal with stress, anger, conflict and so on.

4. Education, including integration into formal schooling

Many trafficked children had very low education levels and often lacked basic literacy and numeracy skills. Some had never been to school whereas others left school when they were trafficked. Options for educational opportunities were generally limited to children assisted in a shelter programme. Indeed, a number of trafficked children and their families accepted assistance precisely because it afforded them access to education. Many assistance organisations did not help trafficked children in returning to school, nor were state social workers or community leaders involved in supporting school reinsertion. Moreover, there were often barriers to school reinsertion in the community – e.g. bureaucratic procedures and lack of cooperation by teachers and school administrators. More than one trafficked child was told that they were “too old” to return to school, but were offered no option for “catch-up classes” or information about alternatives like non-formal education or vocational education/training.

5. Life skills education

Trafficked children commonly lacked basic life skills – e.g. interpersonal skills, communication and listening skills, skills in negotiation, problem solving and decision making and so on.

Life skills were vital to help trafficked children move on from trafficking and to successfully (re)integrate in their family and/or community. Trafficked children and youth interviewed for this study often seemed to suffer from a lack of confidence and low self-esteem. One boy, trafficked for labour in China, described his feelings about being tricked into his trafficking situation. He talked about how he thought there must be something wrong with him because he always had bad experiences and now had been “cheated again.” Later, while accommodated at a shelter, he came into conflict with another boy staying there and chose to run away because he didn’t know how to resolve the problem.

6. Vocational training

Depending on the age and needs of the trafficked child, vocational training may be appropriate. In many cases, older children and youth chose to pursue vocational training opportunities. Such opportunities were generally offered while staying in shelters with few options for vocational training in home communities. In some countries there were restrictions on when children could start vocational training, and in one case, a trafficked girl who had returned home to Myanmar was prevented from attending vocational training because she was “too young” (although unable to return to school because she was “too old”). Instead, she worked for a year until she was eligible to be trained. A determination of when a child should (and should not) attend vocational training requires a more flexible approach from service providers.

7. Economic support (to the trafficked child/youth or their family)

While some trafficked children and youth directly received economic support, it was commonly given to their parents/guardians. Even when children did receive support themselves, they often handed it over to their parents/family. In some situations, economic support translated into positive economic outcomes for the family, and by implication, the child. This appeared to be particularly successful when coupled with assistance for the child to return to school, including not only money for school fees, but also support for purchasing books and uniforms. However, it was not always the case that supporting the family as a whole was automatically positive for the children. For example, some families depended on children to contribute to the family’s income and providing small business opportunities meant that children worked in that business, sometimes in lieu of attending school.

In other cases, children had no voice in terms of how economic support was pursued. Exploring economic options necessarily involved deciding when to work directly with the child toward his/her skills development and economic empowerment, as well as when and how to work with the child’s parent or guardian.  For example, one boy, trafficked internally in Myanmar for labour, was assisted to return to school by a local community-based programme. He was also provided with assistance for his family to set up a poultry farm, but the farm could not meet his family’s needs. His father was ill and unable to work every day. Therefore the boy also needed to continue to contribute to his family’s income. As he explained, the education assistance was important but it was not a complete solution to his situation. The overarching factor, ultimately, should have been a determination of the child’s best interest, which could only have been assessed by involving the child in this decision-making process.

8. Legal assistance and support during legal proceedings

Many trafficked children, including some who were very young, were involved as victim/witnesses in legal proceedings against their traffickers and there seemed to be limited options to decline to be involved. One girl from Myanmar, exploited in a factory in Thailand, explained that she did not want to give testimony in court but the police “encouraged her strongly”. Trafficked children, like adults, generally gave testimony and statements on multiple occasions through translation and in an environment where they did not understand the language. Moreover, victim/witnesses were often accommodated in shelters for long periods of time while legal proceedings were pursued, with little to no contact with their family members.

9. Family mediation, counselling and support

Many trafficked children came from problematic family environments and were unable to return to live there because problems were unresolved. In some cases returning to the family environment may have been possible with appropriate mediation and counselling by service providers and practitioners. This form of assistance was generally lacking in the region. Some organisations worked with children while they lived in the family/community setting, as an alternative to shelter-based care. While not an option for all trafficked children (some originated from very unhealthy and difficult environments), it was a constructive approach for families, which, when supported during (re)integration (e.g. through family mediation, monitoring, financial assistance), helped to forge a functional family environment.

10. Case management and follow-up after (re)integration

Children were likely to require a longer period of monitoring and follow-up as part of (re)integration given their specific situation and vulnerabilities and because they were not in a position to care for themselves as children. In addition, the types of assistance needed by children – e.g. education – are longer term, often a matter of several years.  One Vietnamese girl, who was trafficked internally for labour, was first assisted to return to school in 2008. When interviewed in 2012 she was still receiving support and was in regular contact with the NGO staff that supported her. By contrast, some trafficked children received little to no case management and monitoring.

11. Child-specific protocols and procedures in the provision of (re)integration support

Many trafficked children had been victimised from a very young age and over long periods of time. Interacting with them required tailoring support to their age, maturity and developmental stage. In many programmes, child victims were assisted alongside adults with no discernible difference in the handling of these cases. The implementation of child-specific protocols and procedures appeared to have been very limited.

It was also concerning that children were not consulted about their assistance in many cases, with the needs of trafficked children determined solely by service providers, or by service providers in consultation with their parents or guardians. One girl from Myanmar, trafficked for begging and street selling in Malaysia, was assisted by an organisation upon her return, assistance that she very much needed and was grateful to receive. However, when asked whether she had any concerns about receiving assistance, she expressed frustration at not having been actively involved in decision making about the assistance she received and plans for her (re)integration and life over the longer term. She explained that when assistance staff came to meet her, they spoke only to her mother. They did not consult with her.

Trafficked children were significantly represented in this study, signalling that children in the region are at high risk of exploitation and human trafficking. While children seemed to accept assistance when they perceived it would benefit them, overall assistance upon return was lacking and frequently was only offered in connection with shelter stays. Greater attention (and resources) are needed to more adequately support the specific and diverse needs of trafficked children in moving on from their trafficking experiences, particularly in the long term and in their home communities. This will involve not only improving the capacity of anti-trafficking professionals working with children, but also mainstreaming (re)integration services for trafficked children into the social protection framework which should, in principle, be equipped with specialised skills in working with vulnerable children. Critically, trafficked children need to be (voluntarily) involved in the development and monitoring of (re)integration programmes designed to assist them. Only with their participation and input will (re)integration programmes and policies in the region be able to meet their needs and interests.

Trapped at sea. Using the legal and regulatory framework to combat trafficking at sea

This post originally appeared on February 21, 2014 at The Trafficking Research Project


Trapped at sea. Using the legal and regulatory framework to combat trafficking at sea

Once again, we welcome Rebecca Surtees from the NEXUS InstituteThis post is adapted from “Trapped at sea. Using the Legal and Regulatory Framework to Prevent and Combat the Trafficking of Seafarers and Fishers”, published in 2013 in the Groningen Journal of International Law. Vol. 1, No. 2: Human Trafficking. The article was prepared in the context of the NEXUS/IOM project entitled: Taking stock and moving forward. Considering methods, ethics and approaches in trafficking research and data collection, funded by U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP). The original article is also available and

Recognition of the diversity of trafficking for forced labour in recent years has included increased attention to exploitation within the seafaring and commercial fishing industries. It is clear, based upon our research, not only that human trafficking takes place, but that such cases are aided by sector-specific aspects that heighten levels of risk and vulnerability for seafarers and fishers that may lend themselves to abuses, such as isolation at sea, lax regulation, oversight and enforcement, and limited contact with authorities on land and at sea.  Trafficked seafarers and fishers in various regions of the world are exposed to a range of hardships, including: the lack of basic necessities like food and water for extended periods; substandard and often inhumane conditions; long work hours, sometimes days on end, with only a few minutes of break in this time; lack of any compensation; restricted or no freedom of movement; and violence against them.

Given that research by NEXUS Institute has documented a spectrum of abuse against seafarers and fishers as well as a context of heightened risk and vulnerability, greater understanding is needed of the full range of abuse at sea experienced by seafarers and fishers – including cases that rise to the level of human trafficking.

Addressing exploitation in these sectors requires an effective and appropriate transnational legal and regulatory framework, which is enforced across jurisdictions. Understanding the various legal and regulatory opportunities to prevent and combat trafficking at sea is an essential starting point for future discussion and intervention.

International law that may be used to combat trafficking at sea falls generally into three areas:

1) International anti-trafficking law: including human rights law as it applies to trafficking-related exploitation. Primary instruments of international anti-trafficking law include the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Trafficking Protocol) and the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings (CoE Convention);

2) International maritime law: the body of laws, conventions and treaties that govern international private business or other matters involving ships and shipping; and

3) The international law of the sea: the body of public international law that primarily draws on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); almost universally recognised as establishing the regime of law and order in the world’s oceans and seas.

Understanding the laws that can be used to improve the situations of fishers and seafarers requires parsing these complex bodies of international law relevant to trafficking at sea.

“Trafficking at sea”, in the context of this discussion, involves seafarers and fishers undertaking at-sea activities, including the transport of cargo, fishing, fish processing and transportation while on vessels, rafts, fishing platforms or otherwise offshore. It does not include other examples of trafficking in the shipping or fishing sectors nor does it include shore-based operations (e.g. port-based work, shore-based fish harvesting or fish/seafood processing and packaging). The definition of a fisher is found in the ILO Work in Fishing Convention (subsequently referred to as the WIF Convention); in lay terms, a fisher is any individual who is a member of the crew on board a fishing vessel. This differs from a seafarer, who according to the Maritime Labour Convention (subsequently referred to as MLC) is “any person who is employed or engaged in any capacity on board a ship to which this Convention applies”. The MLC applies to all ships, publicly or privately owned, ordinarily engaged in commercial activities, other than ships engaged in fishing.

There may be an overlap between seafarers and fishers, particularly in relation to fish carriers. For example, in our study of trafficked seafarers from Ukraine, a number of men were trafficked on vessels engaged in illegal crabbing in the waters off of Russia. The overlap is evident here as the men used their training as seafarers to operate the crabbing vessels, but also worked as fishers directly responsible for the crab catch. That being said, as all of their work took place on board a fishing vessel, they would be considered fishers as they fall under the definition of fishers according to the WIF Convention.

Distinguishing between seafarers and fishers according to the type of vessel (fishing or merchant) on which they work is important because maritime law offers different protections for individuals on board, depending on the classification of a ship. Under maritime law, fishing vessels are less regulated than merchant fleets and crews aboard fishing vessels are, arguably, more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, including human trafficking.

Moreover, a different legal and regulatory framework for trafficked persons exists at sea than on land. Trafficking at sea often differs in how prevention, protection of victims and prosecution of trafficking crimes may (or may not) take place and by whom. Trafficked seafarers and fishers may find themselves aboard vessels that are unflagged or flagged to another State, ashore in a foreign port or never entering port, and/or suffering abuse and exploitation on the high seas or in waters that fall within the territory of one or various States. The issue of jurisdiction is particularly relevant in the context of trafficking at sea given the increased likelihood of trans-jurisdiction, with merchant and fishing vessels moving easily and often between jurisdictions. Determining which State(s) has (have) legal and regulatory responsibilities to address trafficking at sea not only depends on the nationality of the victim and of the trafficker(s), but also on where the vessel is (i.e. the ports and waters it may enter) and the country to which the vessel is registered.

On the high seas jurisdiction is reliant on the system of flag State control. All vessels must fly the flag of the country to which they are registered: the State under whose protection the ship sails and to whose laws it must adhere. This is known as flag State responsibility. In reality, many vessels fly what are known as “flags of convenience” (FoCs). This refers to the business practice of registering a merchant ship or fishing vessel in a sovereign State different from that of the ship owners to reduce operating costs or avoid certain regulations. FoCs are from States with an open register that usually are unable or unwilling to take seriously their flag State responsibilities, either in terms of enforcing their existing national laws or in terms of implementing laws that comply with their responsibilities under the treaties they have ratified. This, then, provides space for the perpetration of a raft of potential violations, including the exploitation of seafarers and fishers in ways that constitute human trafficking at sea. Lack of regulation further limits opportunities for identification of those already aboard vessels or for escape from trafficking.

Liberia, for example, is a commonly used FoC. The Liberian Registry is one of the largest and most active shipping registers, with approximately 4,000 ships registered to the Liberian flag in 2013. But, according to the 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report issued by the U.S. Department of State, the Government of Liberia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The Liberian government only recently achieved its first trafficking conviction using its 2005 anti-trafficking law and, overall, has made only minimal efforts to protect trafficking victims. If a trafficking situation were to be identified on a ship flying Liberia’s flag on the high seas, Liberia’s anti-trafficking legislation would apply and the protection of trafficked seafarers or fishers on board would depend on the Government of Liberia’s ability or willingness to enforce that legislation. It is concerning that the most common FoCs, like Liberia, are those of States that have not brought their national laws and anti-trafficking efforts in accordance with the requirements of the Trafficking Protocol and, where relevant, the CoE Convention.

A further complication is that seafarers and fishers are often recruited through crewing agencies that may or may not have an official presence in their home countries. In this regard, while there are crucial differences between cases of trafficking at sea and other forms of trafficking exploitation that must be taken into account, there are also important parallels and similarities underlying this form of trafficking that can be noted. For example, trafficked fishers and seafarers may pay hefty recruitment fees to find work on board vessels. Issues of fraud and deception in contracts and/or the recruitment process, subcontracting, and multiple levels of culpability from crewing agencies to vessel owners complicate problems for fishers and seafarers who find themselves in exploitative situations. The lessons that can be learned in addressing such challenges (e.g. requiring recruitment fees to be borne by the employer or ensuring that trafficked persons are not criminalised for crimes they commit as part of their exploitation) can and should be applied to exploitation in other sectors.

The quality of current national legislation in many States remains a limiting factor in terms of States’ ability to combat human trafficking and States need to bring their legislation in line with their obligations under anti-trafficking law and maritime law (and enforce their laws on their vessels as required by the law of the sea). A commitment is also needed by States to implement and enforce the existing obligations from international anti-trafficking law, international maritime law and the law of the sea to combat trafficking at sea. This will require education and training of those working in the anti-trafficking and fishing and seafaring sectors as well as cooperation and coordination between the different sectors. It will also require monitoring and enforcement by and of States, and also likely incentives and sanctions for those States who do not live up to their obligations to prevent and combat trafficking at sea.


Ethical principles in the re/integration of trafficked persons. Experiences from the Balkans

This post originally appeared on October 18, 2013 at The Trafficking Research Project


Ethical principles in the re/integration of trafficked persons. Experiences from the Balkans

This week we welcome back Rebecca Surtees. Rebecca is Senior Researcher at NEXUS Institute, an international human rights research and policy center in Washington, DC. NEXUS Institute is dedicated to combating human trafficking as well as other human rights abuses. This post is written in conjunction with a newly released report on developing common ethical principles within anti-trafficking re/integration.

In the Balkan region, human trafficking continues to be a pressing issue. One central aspect of anti-trafficking work is re/integration; the process of recovery and economic and social inclusion following a trafficking experience. Re/integration services are often key to trafficked persons’ ability to recover and move on with their lives. And yet few organisations and programmes have developed ethical principles according to which their re/integration work is implemented, monitored and evaluated. 

In response to this gap, a set of ethical principles for re/integration programmes and policies have been developed in the Balkan region. These principles – a new and significant development in re/integration work – were developed by NEXUS Institute in collaboration with eleven re/integration NGOs supported under the Trafficking Victims Re/Integration Programme (TVRP), funded by the King Baudouin Foundation and GIZ. These principles, grounded in direct re/integration work and developed collaboratively from the bottom-up, aim to hold re/integration practitioners and policy makers to a higher standard and to be accountable in their work. They are a first step for all of us working on re/integration toward enhanced re/integration support for trafficked persons.

Ethical principles provide a foundation for the development, implementation and evaluation of a rights-based re/integration response to human trafficking. Principles underpinning re/integration work relate to attitudes, rights and duties about human welfare – for example: “respect for the autonomy of service users” or the “promotion of human welfare”.

Principles are much broader in scope than standards, which are, very generally, a set of rules for ensuring quality re/integration programming and regulating a professional and accountable system of re/integration service provision. Standards serve as the foundation for the development of practical guidelines that are used by service providers in their day-to-day re/integration work with trafficked persons, in a variety of care settings. Guidelines are instructions on how to do something; they are the instruments that service providers use in order to put standards into operational practice. Standards and guidelines exist in some places and not in others. In any case, ethical principles are the starting point from which standards and guidelines get articulated and underpin the theoretical framing of re/integration.

Professional ethics concern matters of right and wrong conduct, good and bad qualities of character and the professional responsibilities attached to relationships in a work context.

Ethical principles are intended for use by any professional working in the field of anti-trafficking re/integration, whether for GOs, NGOs or IOs, from a range of different fields including social work, psychology, medicine, law enforcement, law and so on. Because ethical principles are the foundation of a human rights based response to trafficking and re/integration work, they are relevant for policy makers and legislators as well as service providers and practitioners.

Some of these ethical principles are mandated by international and national legislation, making their safeguarding not only an issue of ethics but also a legal requirement. For example, there are a range of legal issues associated with the collection, transfer and sharing of sensitive data (sometimes the subject of legislation on data protection), such as data collected in the context of re/integration case management. In some cases, re/integration programmes and activities may be governed by multiple legal and ethical codes – for example, the country of the organisation managing the programme, the country where the programme is being implemented (if different from the former) and/or the country funding the programme – making implementation challenging.

Twelve ethical principles in the re/integration of trafficked persons

Principle #1. ‘Do no harm’. 

Re/integration programmes and policies should “do no harm” to trafficked persons.

Principle #2. Informed consent.

Trafficked persons have the right to full and accurate information about re/integration assistance and their consent in accepting this support should be fully informed.

Principle #3. Confidentiality.

Trafficked persons’ confidentiality must be strictly guarded in the context of re/integration work.

Principle #4. Anonymity.

Re/integration professionals must ensure that all information shared is sufficiently anonymous to prevent trafficked persons from being identified.

Principle #5. Privacy.

Trafficked persons have the right to privacy, to be free of unwanted or unsanctioned intrusion at all stages of their re/integration.

Principle #6. Non-discrimination.

Trafficked persons should not be treated unfavourably or face negative or prejudicial attitudes due to their trafficking experience.

Principle #7. Safety and security.

Trafficked persons’ safety and security is paramount and must be assessed (and responded to) throughout the re/integration process.

Principle #8. Sensitivity.

Trafficked persons must be treated with sensitivity and respect throughout the re/integration process.

Principle #9. Empowerment.

Trafficked persons should be equipped with the skills, ability and confidence to recover and lead an autonomous life. Empowerment should be fostered throughout the re/integration process.

Principle #10. Beneficiary participation.

Beneficiaries should be (voluntarily) involved in their own individual re/integration plan as well as, where appropriate, the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the re/integration services, programmes and policies.

Principle #11. Data protection.

Data collected about trafficked persons in the context of re/integration must be strictly protected in adherence with national and international legal standards.

Principle #12. Child protection and the “best interests of the child”.

Re/integration programmes and policies should ensure that trafficked children are protected and their best interests are the primary consideration.

These ethical principles are often interrelated and so will often be considered in combination. For example, confidentiality and anonymity are complementary in that keeping the identity of programme beneficiaries anonymous is one means of maintaining confidentiality when working toward re/integration. Similarly, protecting confidentiality is essential to ensure both the safety of victims and also data protection. Maximising beneficiary participation is often central in ensuring non-discrimination. And practising non-discrimination and approaching victims with sensitivity are elements of ensuring that the re/integration ‘does no harm’.

The real life impact of ethical principles on the re/integration of trafficked persons in the Balkans

Supporting beneficiary participation and empowerment

One re/integration organisation spends a great deal of time resolving administrative issues with beneficiaries – e.g. civil registration, obtaining new documents and so on. Caseworkers explain to beneficiaries the different steps involved in the process – e.g. what office to contact, how to get there, how to fill in forms and how to submit documents. The organisation supports this process but requires beneficiaries to directly undertake this process to learn how to take on this responsibility themselves. 

Gaining informed consent

“Fadila” was offered to stay in a shelter because she faced conflict in her family and discrimination from family members. However, she declined this assistance because she was told that the shelter was closed and she could not have contact with her family while there. The state social worker, the police officer and the social worker from the re/integration programme spent time with her and her family to explain the programme, including that it was voluntary and she could leave at any time. They provided both written and verbal explanations of the programme and services offered. Eventually she agreed to enter the programme.

Breeching the principle of ‘do no harm’

“Emina”, a trafficked girl, was involved in two legal proceedings related to her trafficking experience – one for human trafficking, the other for rape. Staff from the Centre for Social Work arranged for Emina to provide testimony in both cases on the same day to save time and reduce travel costs. Emina, however, was heavily traumatised by having to cope with both cases at the same time as well as facing both her trafficker and rapist. Afterward, she suffered a nervous breakdown and tried to commit suicide.

Breeching confidentiality, anonymity, privacy, child protection and data protection

One organisation working on re/integration faced a situation in which it was legally obliged by the state social services to share case files of their child beneficiaries. However, the staff subsequently learned that these case files had not been securely and confidentially stored but rather had been left in boxes in the corridors of social services’ offices, accessible to anyone who wished to look at them.

Breeching sensitivity, privacy and confidentiality

“Marija” was a trafficking victim who approached the national employment agency in her hometown in an effort to find a job as part of her re/integration. A clerk at the admissions desk recognised her and began asking her questions about her life. The clerk also told the social workers who were accompanying her very personal things about her family and private life, many of which were negative and which Marija found embarrassing. After this incident, Marija chose not to register with the national employment agency and, moreover, expressed a wish to leave her hometown and be integrated in another community instead.

While ethical principles have often been implicit in the work of re/integration organisations, there is great value in identifying and explicitly articulating them. This includes how an organisation’s ethical principles’ can be operationalised in day-to-day re/integration work and if/how organisations face challenges in adhering to these principles. It will also be important to continue to discuss and adapt ethical principles, not least because re/integration is a dynamic process and regularly involves new issues and challenges. To ensure successful, sustainable and ethical re/integration programming and policies, new ethical principles (or the further articulation of these existing principles) are likely to be needed as well as the tools for implementation and monitoring of those principles.