Human Trafficking and Europe’s Refugee Crisis

Human Trafficking and Europe’s Refugee Crisis
Presentation during the State of Europe Forum, May 8-9 2016, Amsterdam – Jennifer Roemhildt Tunehag ”Refugee” is a heavy word for those who bear it, and it provokes a nearly involuntary reaction – pity, compassion, distaste, fear – in those who hear it.  One of the challenges in responding well to the current refugee crisis is replacing that reaction with a response that is informed by the reality and the humanity of the people seeking refuge in our countries.  This transformation is our responsibility, and it is essential to prevent migration from turning into exploitation. Of the sixty million people forcibly displaced in the world today, over a million arrived in Europe in 2015.   The UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 84% of this total come from the world’s top ten refugee-producing countries; in other words and in general, these are people fleeing situations of war, instability, or persecution.  Around 50% of this group has come from Syria. Rhadika Coomaraswamy, former UN special rapporteur on Violence Against Women, has famously noted that “traffickers fish in the streams of migration.”  What does this mean for the millions on the move, and particularly for those entering Europe? Europol notes that more than 90% of refugees in 2015 used the services of criminal networks in order to flee their country or to move between countries; a reasonable act when borders are closed, war looms, or legal documents are inaccessible.  However, that choice links them with people seeking to profit from their desperation – a loose criminal network that Europol believes expanded to over 40,000 people in a multi-billion euro enterprise by February 2016. People smuggling is not the same as human trafficking, but both are criminal enterprises.  People smugglers are contracted to help people migrate illegally between countries; when they arrive, the contract is finished.  In contrast, human traffickers control not only the passage but also the future of their human cargo, holding or withholding crucial documents, exacting crippling fees in payment of their services, or extracting labour from victims who find themselves unable to pay, or to escape. Danger is an inescapable part of this relationship.  Refugees may find themselves unable to negotiate safe conditions as they deal with rapidly-changing circumstances and  treacherous people, and anecdotal evidence indicates that human lives are often a part of the “transportation fee”.   In many cases refugees report that a son or daughter was demanded in exchange for safe passage out of (or through) a country, and organ removal – for the illegal EU trade in organs – is another common currency when money runs out and the destination has not been reached. It would be lovely but entirely unrealistic to think that the dangers end when migrants arrive in Europe.   As people without status, their vulnerability persists – and can be exacerbated by criminal activity in the camp, centre, or community; unsafe living situations; minority status within group; and generally by isolation in their new country.   Several other factors increase vulnerability to traffickers’ schemes.  Unaccompanied minors (children), women without family protection and support, and people who are disabled face the greatest dangers and require attention and support on arrival. The denial of asylum is one of the times of greatest risk for exploitation.  People waiting in asylum centres or camps in Europe are vulnerable, but not desperate.   However, once negative decisions are handed down, the situation changes dramatically as pressure builds to disappear and try to survive in the underground economy.  Building relationships with migrants now – while they have hope for a new life and the motivation to forge new paths and relationships – is crucial to reducing their vulnerability.  People who have built friendships in their adopted land have more options, and more help should something go awry. Few in this group of newcomers can reasonably be expected to return to their country and thrive, and among those receiving refusals will be people who cannot or will not return to their home countries.  Offering sanctuary is one reasonable way for churches to protest inhumane and unjust policies, particularly when refugees are set to be expelled or ”returned” to countries which are unsafe or do not conform to international standards on refugee assistance. What (else) can we do? Legal interventions and lobbying
  • Fight the normalisation of begging and other forms of exploitation.
  • Lobby for good and just migration laws, including paths to legal migration
  • Support victims of trafficking who give testimony against traffickers – emotionally, spiritually, and financially, if necessary
  Centre- or camp-based outreach
  • Visit closed migration centres to build relationships
  • Volunteer to help to identify vulnerable people / victims of trafficking in reception centres, apartments, and camps.
  • Organise information campaigns about the dangers and warning signs of trafficking situations
Church-based programmes
  • “Adopt” a family. Explore how your church can wrap around a migrant family to understand and respond to their needs so that exploitation never becomes a reality.
  • Consider offering refuge to migrants who would otherwise be returned to unsafe countries.
  • Offer translation services. Bi-lingual church members can provide materials and/or serve as translators at church events, in camps, or even in court.
  • Provide opportunities for healing and connection: language lessons, counseling services, pet therapy or equine therapy programs, art, music and movement therapy, or other classes
  • Focus outreach activities on children! Unaccompanied minors are the most vulnerable to exploitation
  • Foster care – encourage your congregation to serve as foster parents or legal guardians for unaccompanied minors
  • New migrants need jobs. Invite church members who own businesses to hire people you are building relationships with.
  • Refugees have skills! Learn about the talents and strengths of your new friends, and help them decide which of these could be used in finding employment in your community – or even in starting a new business.
For more ideas, tips, and information, visit the EEA’s website on refugee assistance,  and   Addendum:  Vision Statement of the European Freedom Network (EFN) We want to see every person restored to the freedom that God intends and Jesus gives. We want to see every person free from use for the gain of others and free to achieve his or her own potential. We want to see every person free from manipulation by the need for love and free to experience and be transformed by the true love that God has for each person. We want to see every person free from consideration as an economic asset and free to be recognized as a priceless creation. We want to see every person free from the control of others and free to craft his or her own destiny. We want to see every person free from suffering the indifference of others and free to be a fully-valued member of society. We want to see every person free from prideful competition with others and free to give him or herself joyfully to joint causes and collaboration. We want to see every person free from the penalty and curse of sin and free to live the hopes and dreams that God has for each of his children.

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