29 July 2020 - Cairo, Egypt
Under the auspices of the North Africa Mixed Migration Task Force (NAMMTF), members of the task force call for a coordinated response that adequately addresses the specific vulnerabilities of victims and people at risk of human trafficking in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and prevents new and amplified risks of human trafficking.
The provision of essential and protection services to support victims of trafficking in persons have been curtailed due to the measures instituted to “flatten the curve” across the region. The COVID-19 crisis and lockdown amplified the existing disparities between different groups. Victims of human trafficking are less equipped to prevent infection and have limited or no access to healthcare services, due to disruption of outreach activities and of usual pathways used by victims to seek assistance.
Trafficking in Persons (TIP) is characterized by violence, deception, and coercion for the purpose of exploitation. Under the current circumstances, traffickers can operate with even greater impunity. According to UNODC “Lockdowns, travel restrictions, resource cutbacks and other measures to curb the spread of the new coronavirus are putting victims of human trafficking at risk of further exploitation while organized crime networks could further profit from the pandemic.”
Trafficking in persons can also entail sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and is often used as one of the means of control and coercion. According to the UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2018, women and girls represent more than 70% of all detected victims and more than 30% of all detected victims were trafficked for sexual exploitation., During the pandemic, the exploitative practices are further aggravated and there is an increased reporting of cases of SGBV due to lockdowns and mobility restrictions.
Children in fragile families may experience particular risks, due to closure of schools leading to loss of school meals and a protective social environment. As in the case of previous crises, negative coping strategies may lead to child labor, child marriage, and other forms of exploitation. Migrant children are unable to access distance learning due to the digital divide and may find themselves unreached by any services and thus become more susceptible to exploitation.
The noticeable socio-economic impact of the pandemic is likely to make already marginalized people more vulnerable to human trafficking. Moreover, regular or irregular migrants who lost their jobs and those who are stranded due to border closures face additional risks due to lack of access to essential and protection services. The protection of victims of trafficking and of those with pre-existing socio-economic difficulties may also be impacted by the pandemic. Private-sector efforts to promote decent work and counterexploitation in their operations and supply chains may also be eclipsed by the need to compensate for the economic slowdown in the first half of 2020.
As we look forward to a process of gradual easing of restrictions and recovery from the multi-layered impact of COVID-19 on communities and governance systems in the region, we have the unique opportunity to examine and address deeply engrained inequalities that have come to light.
In conflict and emergency settings, including post-conflict settings victims of trafficking have the right to protection and assistance. However, the capacity of the relevant actors and states to fulfill their obligations to provide assistance and protection to victims may have been drastically reduced. Where protection frameworks are compromised in such settings, the challenge is further amplified to ensure victims’ identification and timely provision of protection and assistance they need and are entitled to. There is a clear urgency to understand concerns of marginalization, gender-based violence, and the vulnerabilities that enable trafficking in persons, as well as address barriers that prevent identification and protection of victims.
The discussion on continuing challenges and hurdles in the way of implementing international, regional, and national policy and legal frameworks must incorporate the lessons learned in the process of addressing this crisis. Existing response mechanisms must be strengthened and monitored, and adjusted to minimize harm, while ensuring the needs of the most vulnerable are addressed promptly to preserve the rights of all victims, especially women and children.
In concomitance with the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, 30 July, highlighting the urgency of the aforementioned concerns, NAMMTF members reiterate:
“We stand in solidarity with victims and survivors of human trafficking and reiterate our commitment to support the Member States and communities in the region to ensure the safe identification of victims of human trafficking as well as the provision of adequate referral procedures for protection and assistance to leave no one behind.”
For more resources and information on trafficking in persons, please visit:
COVID-19 Analytical Snapshot: Human Trafficking https://www.iom.int/sites/default/files/documents/covid-19_analytical_snapshot_14_human_trafficking.pdf
COVID-19: Guidance for employers and business to enhance migrant worker protection during the current health crisis https://iris.iom.int/sites/default/files/IOM-COVID%2019_Employer_Guidance_V1.pdf
COVID-19: Guidance for labour recruiters to enhance migrant worker protection during the current health crisis https://iris.iom.int/sites/default/files/COVID-19_Recruiter%20Guidance_Final_V1.pdf
IOM, UNHCR, Heartland Alliance (Global Protection Cluster Anti-Trafficking Task Team) Guidance Note: COVID-19 Pandemic Trafficking in Persons considerations in internal displacement contexts https://www.globalprotectioncluster.org/wp-content/uploads/GPC-Task-Team-on-Anti-Trafficking_COVID-guidance_final_SM.pdf